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Harper & Brothers Publishers 
New York and London 


Copyright, 1937, 1940, 1941, by Glanville Smith 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book are reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any 
manner whatsoever 'without written permission except in the case of brief quota- 
tions embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper & 


which helped finance the necessary travel; to the Cold Spring 
Granite Company, which granted its designer leave of absence 
to undertake it; to the Christian Science Monitor and the Atlantic 
Monthly, for permission to reprint material first printed in their 
pages; and to Cora Gill Smith, the one critic sure to find it excel- 
lent, the author of this book gratefully extends his thanks. 


Preface: Of Islands i 

I. Mrs. Niblick's Nutmegs 10 

II. The Brothers *5 

III. Four in One Shoe 3 8 

IV. English Lessons in Cuba 5 
V. On Speaking Papiamento 63 

VI. Grace at Sea 75 

VII. From Calabash Bay to Port-au-Prince 87 

VIII. Days at Blue Hole 103 

IX. The Isle of Doves 1 17 

X. Turtles and Postage Stamps 131 

XL Easy Money 139 

XII. Ports of Peace 155 

XIII. Of Cabbages and Kings 167 

XIV. Hot Baths 181 
XV. How to Live to a Ripe Old Age in the Tropics 1 94 

XVI. Sailing with Father Noah 209 

XVII. Horseflesh and Gooseflesh 222 

XVIII. A Hotbed of Queens 237 

XIX. King William and the Rumba 252 

XX. The Great Orpheum 268 





their coasts are God-made and decisive, whereas frontiers are 
only arbitrary. Of the two, islands are the dearer to us, as boats 
are dearer than ships, and puppies are more irresistible than 
grown-up dogs. 

These small parcels of earth, with their sea-kept freshness, 
seem hopeful of perfection. Utopia was an island. Where evil 
Has to swim to come, perhaps it will stay away; if the rule of 
beauty, tranquillity, and order is not to be attained on the grand 
sca l e and here one of mankind's oldest daydreams rises comfort- 
ingly in our brains perhaps it can be achieved on a small scale, 
on some small island, advantageously remote. 

I see it now, "my island," wrapped in a silver haze like Christ- 
mas cellophane: one craggy hill with a spring gushing at the foot, 
two venerable trees to swing a hammock between, and a house 
with a puff of blue smoke pinned to the chimney top. Napoleon, 
who was born on unimportant Corsica, and died squirming on 


minute St. Helena, was continent-crazy. Poor man! What a 
mania! Most of us fortunately are not like him. An island apiece 
is all we want, and the smaller, the better. 

True, the most isolated islands are made of the same stuff as 
the continents. The people who live on them find discouragement 
as easy and "death as hard as we do. They are human like our- 
selves, even if the scope of their mistakes is more limited. In fact 
they often look with longing across the deeps of air and sea to 
the continental life we live: the huts we build and the errands we 
go on seem ampler and finer than theirs. But these same islanders 
presently can be found looking another way, with gaze focused 
in inconsistent envy on some islet smaller and less accessible than 
their own. 

However, there are degrees in smallness. St. Cuthbcrt found 
Lindisfarne, that scrap of Northumberland stone and dune that 
served as his mission headquarters, too large an isle to pray on. 
Thus, to commune in peace with the God of his strength he 
tucked up his robe at low tide, and waded away from its dis- 
tractions to one big enough for only a single cell and a few 
tufts of dime-sized daisies. 

St. Cuthbert I have always admired. His feeling for islands* 
and mine, are brothers. But it is hard to be always so simple in 
wants as he was. When I imagine my island in detail it tends 
to grow. 

The house on my island of course will be very modest. A right 
size to play "Annie-Annie-I-Over" over is what I want, But such 
dimensions reconcile ill with the interior. I must have a cupboard 
for supplies, a table to eat from, and a bed to sleep on; and then 
I have thought of installing a small, but not too small, pipe organ. 
A bounteous library, rich in those roomy, many-volumed works 
that only people on islands have time to read, also will take space: 
I see the backs in gilded beauty ranged tier on tier about me. 

But it is chiefly when I think of the chairs that my house bulges. 


and the island with it. I myself can sit on the bed, but for a friend 
happening in, it is only polite to provide something better a 
wing chair, for example, to face the fire. At this point the hos- 
pitable strain in my nature wakens with a leap; friend Friend 
expands into a dinner party. And since there is nothing more 
vexatious than to postpone part singing that aches to begin, while 
clearing up a mess of dishes, a housekeeper here takes her place in 
a hastily added lean-to kitchen. 

Ah me! my island is inhabited after all, I see, as Crusoe knew 
his was when he found the footprint in the sand. Well, the village 
on the far cove will provide a barber for me, girls to wink at, and 
young fry for swimming pals. 

Moreover, my suspicion is that inhabited isles are best. With- 
out lewd Caliban and freakish Ariel, Prospero would soon have 
been stifling yawns among his books; St. Cuthbert, at the next 
low tide, returned to his staff of missionaries very ready to join 
their gossip by the fire. Or who can imagine Boswell on Inch- 
kenneth, the isle he picked for his in the Hebrides, banging away 
at interlopers with the cannon mounted unsociably for the pur- 
pose? On the ensuing voyage, in fact, when a rock, strictly 
forbidding, hove in view and Johnson cried, "This shall be your 
island and shall be called Inch Boswell," his friend hardly thought 
it funny. No, life in a hermitage I intend to try some, day with 
f uU expectation of enjoying it; but the semi-gregarious life I know 
in advance is what really suits me. 

The inhabitants of my island I should prefer to choose, how- 
ever, or so I think at first. For heaven's sake let them be unmarred 
by the mad world outside. I like people whose skins glisten and 
who roll with laughter. And while I am wishing, let them be 
pretty too. Here rises the vision of some Wedgwood-platter Eden, 
of palm trees full of nuts, rich-brisding plumes of sugar canes, 
and a select company of nymphs in Turkish fancy dress, picnick- 
ing on the strand. It is my original toy island once again, an 


engraver's fantasy from the cartouche on some old ornate map. 
How finely statuesque the naked savages stand, with their cornu- 
copias of pineapples and bananas! In the sky the East Wind blows 
out his cheeks, while turtles and porpoises, frolicking in the sea, 
carve its heavy surface into rococo French-pastry curls. 

Armchair islands like these are a delight to visit, and indeed 
it is not impossible to find them in the pages of old histories. I 
think of the island at the Ecuadorian harbor mouth, to which the 
filibusters took the port's prettiest girls, a band of harp and lute 
players, and hampers of cakes and fruit and wine. Under the 
sea-grape trees they spread carpets, pitched their pavilion, and 
whiled away the time needed ashore by the city fathers in 
hustling up a ransom. No seventeenth-century cartographer, nor 
china painter of the eighteenth, ever detailed a picnic party more 
piquantly Arcadian. And the girls, safe again in their parents' 
arms, vowed that never in their lives had they had a better time* 

Oddly enough, if these same young ladies had known, the day 
before, of the junket that the next day was to bring, it would 
have seemed dreadful, even nasty. What! fondled by stinking 
filibusters? Anybody for holiday playmates rather than those 
fiends, the Lutherans! Given their choice, they would have picked 
captors of a more familiar stamp, say the class of '42 from Sala- 
manca University.* But they learned from their adventure what 
I think I know without it, that strangers and surprises give a 
spice to life, and that no island is complete without them. 

If we are to believe what we see on old maps, Neptune was a 
stranger who used often to bring excitement to the isles. In his 
shell car, rushing with its teams of white-maned horses in the 
curve of a flowing wave, he arrived trident in hand. It must have 
been a picture. Or Columbus, planting the cross of Spain gran- 
diosely on his Indies what an occasion! He was a dressy man, 

* Meaning, of course, die class of 1642. 


and treated the Indians, who had never seen clothes before, to the 
spectacle of European haberdashery in its most gorgeous epoch. 
What we miss in our own time I realize most keenly when I 
realize also that, lugging a suitcase and in a white drill jacket in 
need of an ironing, I have been the modern-day successor of 
those personages. At port after port, the full length of Colum- 
bus's West Indies I put ashore, their stranger of the twentieth 
century. And, very properly, no garlands anywhere greeted my 
arrival, no weed-wreathed tritons blew their conch-shell horns. 
The colorless tombstone man was met by the immigration officers. 

No, I could never be anybody, nor pretend to be anybody for 
long, but Smith of Cold Spring. It was as if I had just put on my 
hat after detailing the day's last epitaph or rose, and come away 
from the untidy drafting room to hobnob as usual with the town's 
dogs and children on my way to supper. 

What a solid world I had left behind! founded on the firm 
bedrock of granite! No battle, to history's knowledge, has ever 
disfigured our calm countryside. Day after day, preparing for the 
slow stresses of eternity, the granite slabs move through the great 
mill by the river, to take the forms I and my fellow draftsmen 
set for them: monuments, mausoleums, crosses, footstones, of 
'smoldering dark red, or grays grave and crystalline. And about 
us, inimitably in all directions from this Minnesota midrib of the 
continent, away stretches the comfortable sameness of one lan- 
guage, one big, common, kindly way of life. 

But even so continental a world can have its islands. Ours, up 
the Sauk, I have mapped for a hobby, on winter holidays when 
ice travel has made it easy to take sights; and in summer quote, 

"Many a green isle needs must be 
In the deep wide sea of misery, 
Or the mariner, worn and wan, 
Never thus could voyage on? 


while waving an affectionate canoe paddle at still-nameless inno- 

The dark West Indies, however, which loomed for so many 
months about me from the sea to the clouds, had weltered in a 
misery less cheerfully to be borne than mine, which is of the 
// Penseroso sort, for the most part, very tolerable. Plagues and 
piracy, slavery, revolt, grog-swilling, greed, and endless wars by 
sea and land, had been the blue vats in which they were all but 
drowned in their ^ild infancy, with middle age no less frantic 
for the unluckier of them. It seemed awful, in scenes like these, 
to go ashore in pert felt hat, without salute or ceremony. 

Yet these history-drenched islands, with haze of blue still in 
their steep-plumed ravines, were youthful enough. They made 
me from my far newer part of the New World feel even a 
little elderly. For all the woes and upsets of an exhausting career, 
they had kept alive the core of their primitive island peace, like 
a bulb hid in the ground, flowering afresh in its own quiet season. 

Empires might founder and civilization turn turtle in the brine, 
but here were remnants of the good earth for a worn mariner 
to steer to. The cliffs of Dominica still fronted their vermilion on 
the windward surf, coconuts thrust new roots into the salty sand, 
guavas dropped, and dragonflies mated innocently in the sun. 
The verdure-framed waterfalls of Jamaica gushed as freely as in 
the days of no trouble at all those days when in my small- 
boyhood's album I feasted on pictures of them, on the stamps, 
and first hankered and resolved to know the islands. 

But peace finds refuge too in the lives of the simplchearted. 
What good company such people are! Their prayers must go up 
with a special efficacy. For though Adam's curse weighs on us 
all, we all share likewise in the inheritance of the dream of Eden 
of which dream's harmony these souls, never desperate for its 
recapture, most nearly achieve the earthly counterpart* Even the 


cities we build, thanks to their presence, can have a haunting 
kinship with the lost paradise. 

Thus, and though political economy is a timelier concern, and 
emergencies require that we be up, constantly, and shooting, the 
shores and hills and islanders that I learned to know had some of 
the old healing secret in their trust. The Negro grandmother, for 
example, fast asleep in the armchair by her door, with hands 
folded and glasses crooked, no doubt had a snore meant specifically 
for me. 

I had a message for her too perhaps. At any rate she was glad 
to wake up and meet someone new. Tombstone designers do not 
come in on every boat, curious to try what joys lie this side of 
the tombs that are their business. My small talk and pert Cold 
Spring hat had a gleam of the romantic in them for the lady. 

While climbing the islands' hill roads, in fact, it was with 
secret delight that I saw housewives topple from doorsteps, 
craning their necks for a more prolonged view of the stranger. 
Not even Columbus, in furred cloak and brocaded doublet, could 
have been more a cynosure. To a Smith whose unsung task, daily, 
is to lay out the pithless epitaphs of nobodies like himself, making 
eyes bug so, for once, was quite exhilarating. 

Zest faded, however. Such fun soon grows tiresome. A trip at 
home down Main Street is more nourishing to the spirit. No, 
what I wanted of these poor islanders was to have their peace for 
mine, too; to build my house near theirs, light my coal-pot, and 
be taken for granted as a neighbor. Not for nothing was I born a 
nobody. We Smiths know the comfort of being inconspicuous. 

In fact, as it happens in these often dark-skinned isles, the 
white visitors' problem is not how to be remarkable but how to 
be familiar as the physicist's is to know the atom without alter- 
ing it with his mere curiosity. When Neptune arrives, the altars 
immediately smoke, and princes of the blood find all ports in the 
midst of carnival. I see why Haroun al Raschid loved his frowzy 


disguises, and Jove watched Europa's lawn party from the up- 
turned eyes of a grazing bull: even a Smith, tiptoeing in, can 
upset the naturalness of places. 

Luckily, the physicist, though he may have no way of prying 
unsuspected into his atom's private life, can deduce a few facts 
from its behavior in his company. A traveler must content him- 
self with similar part-knowledge. Even what the steam-roller 
tourist learns has its truth: when he unboxes his camera and 
pleads^ "Don't stand in a row, folks, look natural! here, madam, 
please go on spanking your baby as you were when I drove up," 
there is a chance that he will get a not-worthless photograph. 
The statistical-minded who pay calls on governors and ask search- 
ing questions bring away facts of a kind at which I do not sniff. 
Indeed, I wish I had these people's nerve. 

But I haven't. I feel too little assurance to bustle around like 
that, and distrust too much my own replies to deep-probing 
questions. Inexplicably, however and it must set the moralists 
to scratching their heads God's bounty is often bestowed on 
those who neither sue for nor deserve it. 

When I went to the ford at Jacmel to bathe a pair of hot feet, 
why was it to me, recumbent and unarduous, that He sent the 
Haitian playing a long-necked lute with big loose-fingered hands, 
instead of to my hard-working shipmates elsewhere in the city, 
with their cameras and their binoculars and their determination 
to see all? Perhaps He likes to hand gifts to people who are pleased 
to have got something. My friends, true enough, would not have 
been satisfied with that day's bounty. What they wanted while 
ship was in port was to witness a Voodoo sacrifice, human 

I see it again now, that chance port of call on the Havana-ward 
and homeward voyage: the far ring of the blue Haitian moun- 
tains, crumpled and solemn, the bursts of palm foliage, the banks 
of canes, the women lifting their skirts sky-high to flounder 


through the rushing water, the hyacinths bobbing along on their 
pale green floats. Here would have been a place to establish my 
house and boil my rice, with lizards twittering in the thatch, and 
the world streaming past the door on its old, hard, simple errands. 

Where bridges have not yet been built, lute music has a chance 
at natural survival. It did not die, after all, with the filibusters 
who sang to it between kisses on their Ecuadorian island. But this 
black boy's music was by no means archaic. It was contempo- 
raneous and healthy. It had a supple robustness to it, as well as 
the delicacy and sweetness I should have expected from the 

Thought of that music makes me no, not ambitious; ambition 
connotes too cocksure a bent of mind. Let me say "hopeful," 
rather hopeful that there is a book of islands for me to write, 
neither in the jazz tourist idiom, nor grand-operatic: one peace- 
fully insular, in which the monkeyshines and singing of that great 
orpheum, the West Indies, are told of, and its melancholy-gay 
actors' backstage jokes and prayers. For when a rampaging fate 
whirls us we know not whither and divorces islands from their 
old affinities, even so modest a quest as mine can have its worth, 
if, in kind honesty, it reveals a little of how things were some- 
where, yesterday, and how that character outlived day before 
yesterday's distresses. Or must everybody, like my shipmates, 
have gore spilled to be satisfied? 

Lute music, as I came to understand at the Jacmel ford that 
day, is the sort of thing I hanker for in a loud age. I should count 
it grace indeed to be given grace to make some especially if 
there are a few friends to enjoy it with me, in a cheerful island 


Chapter I. 


lee shore of Grenada. It is a steep shore, shaggy with leafage, but 
at Gouyave a river bursts from a cleft in it to push out an apron 
of delta which the town just fills. Above the red roofs two church 
towers stand slim against the blue deeps of the valley; the out- 
most houses overhang the sea wall's curve: here, for a dry oasis 
between watery sea and juicy vegetable kingdom, is a man-made 
nest of brick. But one arc of beach has been left open for the 
fishermen, with coconut trees shooting up behind it like green sky- 
rockets transfixed in mid explosion. 

At sight of a picture so pretty I broke into applause, sailing by 
on a schooner St. George's-bound. It might very well have been 
the town on the far side of my own island, compact and sociable 
though one single church tower in a small-scale Arcady like 
mine would be enough. "The Church's One Foundation/' as it 
happened, was the hymn the crew sang as we came sailing by; 
very boisterously they had just been chasing one another with 
the hatchet, but now their mood changed. Down they dropped 
and in unbashf ul black-boy voices sang of salvation, lying sprawled 
out, heads on hands. 

From St George's there were busses aplenty to carry me back 
to Gouyave if I wanted to go: the "Dignity," the "Modesty/* 
and the "Western Pride" drew up in a tempting row each after- 


noon to take on ice cakes and gesticulating passengers. But where 
should I stay when I reached Gouyave? The super-sergeant at 
police headquarters, smiling kindly from behind his mustachios, 
told me to put my trust in Providence. 

It was all the encouragement I needed. Off I packed, while 
the super-sergeant, amused to be serving as Providence's arm, 
hopped unseen into a seat behind me and down again when I did 
at my destination. "Primus will find a bed for you," he announced 
when a deputy constable, barefoot and in tatters, touched his cap. 
And Primus led the way to Mrs, Niblick's. 

Mrs. Niblick, as I was to learn, was a trim high-brown, a grass 
widow full of dimples and vivacity. She owned a nutmeg grove 
in the mountains and a home of her own in town, atop a shop on 
Main Street. Through an archway Primus ushered me, up a pas- 
sage, and into her cobbled court. 

Here was a brick oven agape like Moloch, the kitchen, shower- 
bath, and a broad stone staircase mounting to the gallery. I soon 
was seated in my hostess's drawing room, and so was Primus, 
picking something from his back teeth with his finger. "Take 
care you don't split yourself right open," said Mrs. Niblick, giving 
me a nudge. Then down the stairs she charged, to bake coconut 
bread for supper, while my mentor and I sallied out to buy 

Before the oranges, avocados, and cabbage were taken home, 
we enjoyed a session in the rumshop end of a dark grocery, with 
iced sweet wine to loosen up our voices. 

"Carnival songs what the gentleman best enjoy," Primus in- 
formed the newcomers. As deputy constable and the white for- 
eigner's first friend in Gouyave, he ostentatiously took charge. 
"Antoine," he commanded, "sing Tire Brigade' for the gentle- 


"My voice not good this evening," Antoine protested, indulg- 


ing in a stage cough for politenesses sake. But then happily out 

Smoke! smoke! fire 
Brigade, lundi, mardi 
Coma corne, 

a humorous ditty, half in Creole French.* 

"Aurelian, sing 'One Day I Met an Old Woman'," continued 
Primus with a wink at me; he too was a traveled man, having 
seen Curasao, and thus could look with detachment on this rustic 

It was a sorrow to Aurelian that I was not a brother Mason, but 
a swig of wine unstopped his throat, and out rumbled a Trinidad 
calypso enumerating the endless contents of an Obea-woman's 

Goly-root, ninny-root, 
Bitter Italian, stinking toe, 

he sang, until, "Speaking of stinking toe/' I was forced to inter- 
pose, "maybe my hostess is waiting to boil this cabbage/' 

But she wasn't. It was destined for Monday's soup kettle. The 
coconut bread was baked, however, and piping hot. She handed 
me a disk of it at supper, big as a steering wheel, and sat acros^ 
the corner of the table to tfafl^pie eat it. Billy, the black butler, 
toiled in and out fetching things up from the" kitchen the rice, 
the jackfish, the fried plantain, and oily Creole chicken* He was- 
aged ten, and where a good shirt most scrupulously should have- 
covered it, his fat belly was exposed. "Billy Belly," Mrs. Niblick 
called him, tickling the irresistible, whereupon our butler would 
double up, giggling, with the teapot in his hands. 

We then made up my bed, spreading open a crisp-folded 

*The French half: "Monday, Tuesday, conch shell blowing," 


sheet and buttoning the pillows in the pillowcases. "You're so 
simple! so soft!" cried Mrs. Niblick, meaning (I hope) that 
there were no stand-off airs about me. When she bid her guest 
an affectionate good night, rain had begun to fall outside in the 
warm gloom. Gouyave was as still as the country. But near and 
regularly there came a homelike sound: before I rolled over on 
the clean hard bed, with its valence stretched around the post 
tops like valentine lace paper, I peeped into the gallery and found 
Billy, for a watchman, faithfully snoring on the floor. 

"Good morning," said Mrs. Niblick next day, sauntering past 
the shower bath. 

True enough, it was a radiant Sunday, as I could see plainly 
from my suds. The bath, in an arch under the courtyard stairs, 
was afforded privacy by a low gate over which the bather could 
chat with whoever happened to be about, and view the Anglican 
church spire pointing a didactic finger toward the blue. 

"If you're going to church, let me go with you," I proposed, 
turning the valve for a final drenching. But as it proved, she hadn't 
done such a thing for months. Gouyave parish, like Anglican 
parishes everywhere in the islands, was in the throes of rising 
from Low to High Church ritual; the goings-on of the rector 
made her adrenal glands boil over. However so it dawned on 
-her to take me would let her gauge progress made without 
Betraying any lessening of her disapprobation of it. So she put on 
her best hat and black net gloves when the bell rang, and soon, 
to the organ's wheeze, we were singing the hymns and trying not 
to sound too noisy. 

The rector, sure enough, held his hands in special ways while 


reading the Gospel, and cracked his brow on the chancel pave- 
ment in abject veneration of the Host. Between transports, how- 
ever, as Mrs. Niblick was pleased to note, he gawked some at 
the unexplained white man in the congregation. But then in the 
sermon he lost himself once more, soaring in spirit to those realms 
where the mystical is the true reality, and blunders made by 
organists during a sung Eucharist blessedly cease to gall 

"As if there weren't a real Roman church just down the street!" 
fumed Mrs. Niblick on the way home. She clenched a fist inside 
a black net glove. But presently a more charitable concern took 
her attention: where could a proper shirt be found for Bill, who 
like the rest of the town's authentic Catholics was to march in 
the afternoon's Rosary Procession? One belonging to her late 
husband perhaps would do one left when he went off to 
the larger life of New York. Turning the sleeves back two or 
three times would make it "fit," 

Primus, that afternoon, also had managed improvements in his 
dress. For style's sake he perspired richly in a wool suit borrowed 
from his cousin Prince; it was of a cinnamon tint, and the fedora 
that rested not lightly on his ears was gray* "Today hot, hot, 
-hot!" he bleated, dragging the hat off to swab his brow. 

The worsted suit, in fact, threatened to worst him even before 
the procession got under way. We had taken our place in seats 
reserved for the Blessed Sacrament League, as it happened, to 
which league he owed eleven months' back dues* But I did not 
know this and Primus was too mortified to ask to move; so while 
he sat at a self-effacing diagonal on the out-edge of the pew and 
melted like lard, I joined the members in good standing heartily 
in their hymn and admired the common-sense informality used 
by the priest in setting his big parade in motion. 

Out of doors, Primus expanded to fit his suit again. The whole 
countryside had come to town, before which throng it was a 
treat to be seen hobnobbing with the white foreigner* I was 


introduced to relatives by the dozen, especially brothers and 
sisters of a perplexing variety of names. Friends, too, were floridly 
presented; but of any who showed too great a readiness to join 
the party. Primus had cautionary gossip to whisper in my ear. 
"This man try to milk you, he two times in jail already," was 
the insidious message; or, of some grinning shaver, "He look 
little, but he a big crook, big, big, big!" For the perquisites due 
the visitor's guide and counselor tobacco, rum, or a chance 
shilling he did not care to see diffused vainly among the 

Aurelian, however, was irrepressible, and Antoine the fisher- 
man could not be shaken off. Nor did I help Primus much to 
shake them, but forgave the old jail terms he significantly men- 
tioned and treated them all to smokes. 

Antoine showed us the boat he was helping build: the log, 
fetched ponderously from the hills to the tune of singing, and 
hollowed out now, was full of moistened sand to make it gape 
still farther. Planks lay ready for the gunwales. 

Aurelian's specialty was the girls. "Never a man come to Gou- 
yave speak nicer about other men's wife' dresses!" he trumpeted, 
urging me to eloquence with a wave of his pipe. They were all in 
their best; it was a pleasure to pay compliments. Or where he felt 
it would be acceptable, he pushed the conversation into sugges- 
tive byways, which made the girls squirm and titter and threaten 
to box his ears. 

Meanwhile the Rosary Procession came winding through the 
streets. The band played; and the burnished-f aced scouts in purple 
neckerchiefs and bright green caps marched like a troop of happy 
bugs. The St. Anne's Guild and Blessed Sacrament League trudged 
behind their banners. Billy Belly footed it with the parochial 
school children, and eight young ladies in blue veils made a win- 
some convoy for the canopied Virgin. Last of all, and helped 


along as necessary, came the town's unfortunates, the blind and 
crippled, bringing their difficulties for an offering. 

The labor of watching his friends parade made Primus thirsty, 
at least he insisted I must be parched. Since it was Sunday the 
rumshops were all shut up; but a deputy constable is not with- 
out resource. We were soon clinking glasses in a merchant's 
storeroom, where Primus, when moist enough again for speech, 
was warmed by his drink to a manly strain. His anecdotes tended 
toward the boastful. "If you sin, Primus sure to catch you," 
grinned Antoine; for his friend, not regularly on the force, earned 
his best fees detecting small evasions of the law and bringing them 
to court for a cure. 

"This detective business win nobody' thanks," mourned 
Primus, nevertheless. "Sweat, slave, up early, run legs off, late 
to bed small pay, no uniform, and the whole world give you 
black looks. That what a man get for keeping people honest." 

"Why you don't till that field you got at Grand Mai and live 
happy?" asked Aurelian, taken aback. "Nobody cuss you for 

Primus spit. 

"There no respect for agriculture," he stated flatly* And with 
a reminiscent grin he launched on tales of further exploits. His 
chest expanded. 

"Take care, man," warned our host. "Before you know it, you 
feel so big you beg to pay the bill." 

Outside again, we found the sunset pouring its gold into 
Gouyave from seaward. While the girls innocently strolled by, 
the boys sat in rows on the bridge rails; the little Virgin had been 
put away in the big plain church and the priest had gone home 
to his supper. 

"Hullo!" cried Primus. "Who leave this blue bicycle by the 
door? Who see my cousin Prince in town?" 

"Prince gone," a fat woman told him, leaning peacefully out 


of her window across the street. "Gone, gone, gone. He ride 
home to Grand Mai on the lorry." 

"That Prince, he go to St. George's without his pants on, he 
so forgetful," complained Primus. "Ain't no fools like you' rela- 
tions. Here the dent that come when he lean she on a mule' hind 
leg," he pointed out, taking the handle bars. 

"I no see you' cousin bring no bicycle," said the fat woman, 
lighting her pipe. 

It was an implication that made Primus huffy. "What you think, 
woman?" he demanded, spreading his hands; "don't I ride Prince's 
bike often enough to know she? Ignore! I just cycle back to 
Grand Mai, and give the fool a cussing. In the morning, Chief, 
I reckon I see you again," he added, not to neglect future business. 
But morning was to find me afoot among the hills: it was a pro- 
gram that reminded him of less strenuous duties. 

"Evening, then," he promised; "Primus never forget he 
friends." And off he rode, hand briskly on the bell. 

"That deputy of yours," said Mrs. Niblick, pouring tea, "rides 
by as big as a full-time constable. Maybe he smells one of his 
friends trading twopence-worth of mace sweepings without a 
license. Humph!" And so on. She didn't think much of Primus. 
"Not because he admires my beauty, he sits so close when I ride 
to St. George's on the bus," she sniffed; "he thinks he'll learn 
something. 'Permit me to assist you with those bundles,' he begs: 
pugh! how he sweats! All the same," she mused, nodding across 
the table, "it was sweet of him to bring you here." 

"Right-o," I agreed, reaching for more jackfish* We had our 
usual lively mealtime chat. But then I went out for a draught of 


solitude, and to see Grenada's steep lee shore by starlight; "Good 
night, good night/' people said, passing barefoot like noiseless 
shadows, till one man stopped to take my hand. 

It was Aurelian. I had strayed into his village and must come 
with him to meet his wife and neighbors. As each cabin took 
shape beside us in the gloom, he knocked and bawled, "Here 
the Englishman from America!" And presently a lamp would be 
thrust out and a dazed black face. "Make yourself known!" 
Aurelian would trumpet, waving his hand in a jovial and lofty 

At the lane's end, where the banana and chocolate groves 
tipped over a bank above the sea, was Aurelian's own cabin, small, 
gray, and rickety. "Make yourself known!" he cried here too, 
waving a glad hand toward his wife. From the dresser on which 
the household's dishes were arranged, a chimneylcss lamp shone 
on the blue of her frock and the hands quietly folded over the 
baby sleeping in her lap. She had marched with the St. Anne's 
Guild that afternoon, but now her lace hat was put away, as was 
Aurelian's man-about-town air. They were at home again and 
settled back in home's unostentation. 

An older daughter, down with the fever, lay out of sight behind 
a flowered cotton screen; Justina, of a midway age, perched on 
her father's knee and turned one foot up to show where a thorn 
had broken in it. "Tomorrow we prick that out!" promised 
Aurelian, trumpet-voiced as usual 

"I have one in my hand, too," I told her; for scrambling up a 
cliff in Antigua to look at orchids, I had buried a prickly-pear 
spine in the knuckle ridge. 

"Antigua very far away," sighed Aurelian's wife* It reminded 
her of Harlem where an aunt lived, "Very cold, now, in Amer- 
ica," she remarked, her aunt having written her that news. 

It was a well-worn topic; however, I elaborated, telling them 
about fishing through the ice, sundogs, and the ear muffs we had 


to wear. But for any telling of mine so I thought, tramping back 
to Gouyave through the dark how could these people know 
what winter was in the North? How, in their nutmeg groves, 
could they see the gnarled oaks, stiff with fortitude, enduring the 
frost-mist of a night in Cold Spring? or the long granite sheds 
shining in the snow, with my tombstones piled beside them as if 
all mankind were waiting for a burial? 

Like an iceberg detached from the polar floe, here I was, 
bobbing from one of their fruity islands to another. Why didn't 
I melt? The first glacier-like visit of the North had thawed back, 
sure enough, to leave Grenada to its Negroes. Cold, slow, drastic, 
implacable, the ghost of that white juggernaut loomed before me 
in the road. 

Absent-mindedly I walked through it. The northern Old World 
had pushed in here not to improve the New, though it assumed it 
was certain to do so, but to better its own fortunes. Columbus's 
and Queen Isabella's dream of native communities of Christians 
was to be fulfilled perversely; for in their time, as it suddenly 
occurred to me, the technique of converting the heathen had gone 
to pot. 

Tickled to have hit on an idea of my own, I sat on a handy 
bridge parapet to elaborate it. 

When St. Cuthbert won the barbarous North British, for 
example, the missionary frontier had almost reached its limit. 
Christendom, with the infidel deaf to argument at its back, had 
toiled to the last chilly island outposts. Not spreading the King- 
dom, but aggrandizing its inner structure now busied the Church. 
When Marco Polo tried to persuade Rome to send the mis- 
sionaries to China that the Great Khan so earnestly had invited, 
he had a devil of a time. A Borgia ascended St. Peter's throne 
in 1492. Poor West Indians! at just this juncture, with the Church 
ripe for its Reformation, their hot sweet islands suddenly were 


And of the first official bringer of enlightenment to the New 
World savages, Buyl, the Benedictine of Columbus's second voy- 
age, not even the Catholic Encyclopaedia has a kind word to say 
so I have noticed since.* Besides, the theology of his era con- 
demned as degenerate any people less civilized than their father 
Noah. These backsliders, stark naked, had lost even the shame of 
their mother Eve! Washing his hands of them, and Columbus too, 
the Vicar Apostolic angrily boarded the first vessel bound back 
to Spain. 

To the credit of the Spanish church it must be admitted, none- 
theless, that by the time the extinction of the islanders was assured, 
the forgotten technique had been relearned enough to spare so 
clean a sweep on the mainland. The first priest to say his first Mass 
in the New World, in fact Las Casas, ordained at La Vega in 
Santo Domingo became the great champion of the Indians. He 
had seen sights to give his religion its blaze of social fury: potential 
converts strung up twelve to a gibbet in honor of the Twelve 
Apostles, and such items. 

In zeal to save the remnant of the island race, Las Casas urged 
bringing in black labor from Africa. For whereas the Arawaks of 
the Greater Antilles sickened in mine or cane field, the few slaves 
introduced already from Europe seemed to thrive. Moreover, the 
Spanish blacks were the successful product of a missionary enter- 
prise of a kind. Ravaged out of heathendom for their souls* good, 
in Spain they had absorbed Christianity from their masters. 
Slavery, so the slavers said, was the Africans* one chance at 
heaven: thought of that three-centuries-used excuse brought a sad 
taste to my mouth. 

Yes, such was the slave trade's seed, innocently moral Having 
sowed it, Las Casas, like a whirlwind, rushed off to the Latin 

'The Vatican cannot strictly be blamed for the choice, since Buy! wat sent out 
on authority of a forged papal bull. 


mainland where, thanks in part to his prodigious ministry, the 
Indians to this day are the major race. 

But as for Grenada here about me, with its blobs of cacao leaves 
drooping against the sky, and streams tumbling unseen in the 
hollows, its fate had not lain 'in Spain's hands, for Spain left the 
Lesser Antilles uncolonized. Here, the native Caribs, though full 
of fight, had been dispossessed by the North Europeans, which 
Northerners soon put into practice the Spanish scheme of work- 
ing the land with blacks. Aurelian and his wife, Primus, and 
Mrs. Niblick, were the moraine of foreign material that the 
glacial drive had dumped. Even these trees about me, bamboo, 
mango, citrus fruit, breadfruit, cacao, and the nutmegs of the 
mountains, had been brought in like that greatest bonanza of all, 
sugar, in the huge transformation of West Indian geography. 

What life was in the West Indies when that drive was at its 
liveliest is not hard to guess. Down from the parapet I hopped 
and tramped off, disturbed by the idea. Restoration and eighteenth 
century England had sent a gay set of planters and military to the 
isles, and so had the France of Louis XIV and Louis XV. It was 
an age of gaming and sexual naughtiness in Europe, which habits, 
magnified on a tropical frontier, made an uproarious world in 
which the black newcomers were to learn Christian manners. 
The buccaneers illumined it especially with their lurid lives. Only 
the Quakers and Jews, as groups, understood that the Africans 
were being depraved while being civilized, and did what they 
could on their own estates to bring justice to the process. 

But here below me were Gouyave's two towers in the star- 
light, that pair of guideposts pointing the way to bliss. Built to 
call white congregations to worship, they had been inherited by 
the meek. Half pillowed in soft treetops now in benign old age, 
they looked toward each other dreamily over the sleeping roofs: 
the Catholic belfry, symbol of Grenada's French regime, and the 
Anglican spire, of the British supercession. 


Early and firmly, in the French and Spanish colonies, Rome 
had laid the foundation for its island towers. Though it was a 
slaveholding, and thus essentially a whites' institution, the baptism 
of slaves was mandatory. The age might be naughty, but at least 
God's followers were numerous on the books. 

The English church, however, clung religiously to the tenet 
that, being animals, Negroes were incapable of salvation. Marriage 
among them was discountenanced as profane; they bred more 
liberally, in fact, without it. When good Lady Nugent, the gov- 
ernor's wife, came out to Jamaica in 1802, she was appalled to 
learn that her King's House staff was made up of the tmbaptized, 
unwed, and unevangelized. 

Meanwhile and who was I to criticize them for it? the blacks 
held to the practices of Guinea as tenaciously as they could. To 
this day, their magic pervades the islands, communal ways of 
working, and an un-European, large, loose sense of family rela- 
tionship. However, the Jews and Quakers were not the last teach- 
ers to exert on them an earnestly well-meant influence. By the 
mid-eighteenth century the Moravians had begun their labors 
in Antigua and the Virgin Islands: the almost Darwinian concept 
was dawning, that people who were degenerate from Noah's 
standard were still capable of regeneration* Fired in their turn, the 
Wesleyans rushed in, and finally the secular educators. 

But the reward for good works seems often a little sour. When 
Virtue finally guided West Indian policy and the slaves were not 
only Christianized but married and emancipated, the islands ceased 
to yield much profit. Or perhaps the radical historians arc right, 
that the profit decline had somewhat to precede Virtue's tri- 
umphant entry. In any event, back thawed the glacier of Northern 
exploitation to the latitudes from which it came. 

In Grenada, here around me, was a specimen of what the 
glacier left. After the excitements of the Rosary Procession, Gou- 
yave had gone peacefully to bed. The waves washed on the 
fishermen's beach as they had in Carib times, but inside these 

houses black and colored Christians snored, not Queen Isabella's 
Indians. Even though her church (in French hands) had been 
persecuted here by the British of another day, and the French 
themselves during their godless Revolution had captured this very 
town for the cult of Reason, Catholicism was still very much alive. 
The tired priest could sleep in confidence of a good tomorrow. 
The rector, too that other white chip off the old block of the 
North could dream with easy heart of candles and canonicals: 
his High Church party it was, among the Anglicans, that had put 
in the best licks in the island vineyard. 

But if the dreams of either man were troubled by the sins of 
their parishioners, I hoped they knew that the black devils of 
Africa were not the sole ones to blame. The European colonists 
were a transient lot and by no means all bad; but their white 
devils, like the telltale legacy of their blood, had come to the isles 
to stay. 

Next night I helped Mrs. Niblick strip the mace from her day's 
nutmeg harvest. 

While infant Billy and she had walked six miles into the moun- 
tains, climbed trees and scrabbled hour after hour for the nuts, 
and then walked home with a bushel apiece on their heads, I had 
been not quite so strenuous. I had climbed to the nutmeg groves, 
true enough, and found them as shadowy and lacy as the beech 
groves of the North. But then through plantations of fern-clad 
cacaos on the lower slopes, and among villages where hydrangeas 
bloomed as big as basketballs, I had come down and eaten my 
lunch on a flat rock in the river. 

It was an odd picnic: dust-dry coconut bread with a jar of 
guava jelly. But there were oranges to wet my whistle, and for 


spiritual refreshment a pamphlet on The Necessity of Purgatory, 
picked up from the rector's rack. 

Primus, it proved, had fallen meanwhile into one of those purga- 
tories that await the boastful "There's , only one Primus in 
Grenada," declared Mrs. Niblick, setting the lamp on the floor 
by the nutmeg pile, "but plenty of blue bicycles. He got called 
quick from headquarters when the real owner of the one he rode 
home yesterday heard who took it. Primus made trouble for him, 
once; now comes tit for tat. Hee! hee! and the big way he clashed 
the bell! I reckon I can take my mace to town this week without 
having him eye the parcel." 

"Good riddance of an ugly face," said her sister. The three of 
us worked on the floor, our shadows towering on the termite- 
riddled walls. 

"I'm glad I got a picture of Primus, yesterday," I remarked, 
pulling the red mace from my heap of nuts, "He stood by your 
oven for it, like a cinnamon bun just baked. But by the way," 
I thought to ask, "that cinnamon-colored suit <wa$ his cousin 

"Was it!" cried Mrs. Niblick, rolling back on the floor to laugh 
the harder. "Prince stripped him like a nutmeg when he got home 
at last. Here comes Sunday and his good suit gone. Primus bor- 
rowed it while he took a wash, or so Prince says," 

"And the hat?" I faltered. 

"That hat fits him so big, I reckon it's his," said Mrs. Niblick 
"Let's be kind and say so." 

"Primus don't make me feel kindly," said the sister. "What 
good in this world is a man like him?" 

"Why," said Mrs. Niblick, sitting up again, "it's nice to have 
something to complain about and Primus makes a very good pest 
Only he's a clown, too, and always keeps us laughing. My nut- 
megs on the floor here wouldn't be worth the picking if the world 
didn't need some spice." 


Chapter II. 


Apperly, who also was father to his brother Murchison. "We got 
one father and one mother," Jason several times told me. It was 
a point of pride, for such things are not to be taken for granted 
in Dominica. Their mother was a laundress and a very good 

Although there are few white people in Dominfca, those few 
are divided into two groups. There is the group of correctly based 
opinion, to which the government officials properly adhere; and 
there is the wrongheaded group that does not bother to maintain 
decorum in all its branches. British now, Dominica was long 
French; and since its nearest neighbors are Guadeloupe and 
Martinique (still French), and its empire trade has been less 
active than once-French Grenada's, a Gallic flavor continues to 
pervade the island. The old, easy Latin carelessness in racial 
distinctions not only has made its people beautiful, but draws to 
it swank present-day Britons, who are devoted to John Bull at 
heart but delighted to live under somebody else's code. 

The judge, who should have been a beacon of British right 
thinking in this twilight zone, turned out more wrongheaded than 
the oddest of the nudists. Seventeen miscellaneous christenings 
he had paid for when he went to his eternal rest. But as he often 
remarked with an unregenerate sigh, there probably had been 
omissions in the rush of events. 


All this I did not know until long after I had bidden the boys 
good-by. I had wondered about their father but had forborne 
asking questions. However, when I did hear the story it was no 
surprise to learn that he was a brilliant Englishman. 

The boys' mother was alive and I met her: a hard-working 
colored woman, who, when she had no clothes to wash, skilfully 
stuffed giant frogs and beetles and other such portable island mon- 
sters and varnished them to sell to sailors and tourists. Jason 
assisted in this enterprise, it was one of the several in which he was 
proficient. His nimble fingers converted cashew nuts into gro- 
tesque monkey heads on which he glued sea shells or bits of 
calabash rind for hats. When a ship came into port he would 
climb aboard with baskets of these things and vend them; while 
Murchison, who was an apprentice tailor, solicited pressing for 
himself or quick laundry work for his mother. Jason was fourteen, 
Murchison, nineteen, and since they were both polite brown boys 
of a trim appearance, they usually got their share of what business 
happened to be going. 

This, too, I learned when I already knew the family. I had 
arrived in Roseau after roasting all night in a ship's third-class 
dormitory with the blacks and Chinamen: each of us had had a 
shelf to roast on, and the Chinese, who were models of patience, 
showed the rest of us how to do it. You just lie down flat and 
suffer, and by and by morning comes and the ordeal is over. The 
purser, who happened to observe me starting ashore with my 
dormitory mates, was much upset. "Your ticket entitles you to 
leave by the first-class gangway!" he protested, looking sweaty. 
But it seemed absurd to make a porter carry my bags amidships 
for a stylish exit; and if I had I should have met the Appcrlys at 
once and brushed them aside, not supposing I was interested in 
nut grotesques or tailoring. They would have remembered me as 
a cool, not to say frost-nipped cucumber. As it was, 1 went down 


the back way where no vendors nor dry-cleaners looked for 
business and met the boys later on a social footing. 

Jason I met first. It was on the jetty after the ship had gone 
and the day's rains had cleared the sky for a gold and turquoise 
sunset. The occasion was so natural and easy that I have forgotten 
how we came to speak. But from the first we recognized each 
other as equals, which spared a great deal of bother. 

Jason liked it very much, for instance, that I was polite and 
friendly with everybody, and I appreciated the same rule of life 
very much in him. One day another boy attached himself to me 
in hope of earning something: he was politeness itself where I was 
concerned, but when the girls came by with their baskets on their 
heads, he taunted them with scraps of lewd songs in Creole French 
expecting to amuse me. As for the lame or weak-eyed, he had a 
heartless nickname for every one, and after he had hooted it till 
they menaced him with their sticks he would split with laughter. 
Jason knew how I enjoyed this walk, he always knew what I was 
up to when we were not together. However, I mentioned to him 
that I had been befriended by a friend of his, one Gerald, where- 
upon his lip flickered in a grimace of disdain. 

He had his opinion, too, of white people's indelicacies. Up the 
valley another day when my tribe of colored small-boy followers 
was larger than usual, we were stopped by a down-at-heel ex- 
planter who came sprinting out of his house to chat with a fellow 
human, as he called me. There was certainly a great deal of talk 
pent up in him; he was like the hermit in Rasselas, only too ripe 
for intercourse with the outside world. But presently he took note 
of his inferiors, my companions. "Whose boy are you?" he asked 
each one in turn, and got for reply, Captain This's or Tom That's. 
"These youngsters are like the mule that knows only his fa- 
ther," he tittered. "They don't brag about being their mothers' 

At this the boys looked sour. Jason grabbed up a stone and 


sailed it into the hedge. I too was offended. "In my country 
when a stranger asks a boy whose child he is, he names his 
father," I pointed out; "that is, unless he thinks the stranger is 
more likely to know his mother. Perhaps," I went on, inspired, 
"you would know these boys' mothers better than their fathers?" 

"Hee! hee! hee!" giggled the ex-planter. But he let the topic 

Usually it was Jason, however, who gave the bright tone to 
our endless conversation. He had a natural knowledge of what 
was interesting, and would break into the story of The Monkey 
and the Bag of Honey \ or perhaps it would be some violent tale 
of cross-purpose island love and murder. Of the gross facts of 
life he was already thoroughly in command at fourteen; there 
was no thing or act that he hesitated squarely to name if it came 
within the scope of his story. I sometimes looked sideways in 
astonishment at him to find anyone so genuinely superior to 
the sly. 

"Dife, woman, 
Avont la line la levt" 

he would sing in a not very tuneful voice, swinging the water- 
proof Carib basket that carried our dry clothes and picnic pro- 
visions.* He knew the coarse songs as well as his friend Gerald 
did, and loved Carnival time when rude jokes and lampoons were 
in order. 

But he also knew the names of birds and plants and what they 
were good for in this rainy world of lawnlike roads and perpetual 
cascades of gushing mountain water. On the Morne he was small 
boy enough when showing me the old cannon to insert an 
imaginary ball and sizzle like the fuse. "Bang!" he barked, throw- 
ing his body back; we both looked out to sea where an imaginary 

'Free translation: "Hot stuff, old girl, hot stuff! before the moon comes up." 
Dtfe (fire) is from the two words, du feu. 


ship lay, and "Zowie!" he cried, leaping into the air when it was 
blown to smithereens. "A direct hit," he reported with relish. 

One thing that Jason liked very much to talk about was his 
future. He had it planned. Of course the present was very lively: 
in addition to being a taxidermist, and cashew-nut artist, and sales- 
man, he was a commercial fisherman on a small scale, a boat 
carpenter, guide, and gardener. He umpired cricket games and was 
the Jubilee swimming and diving champion of his age in Roseau. 
His present earnings not only paid for his clothes and keep, but 
covered the rent on the family's provision ground in the hills. 
Besides, he always had twopence for the cinema on Friday which 
was bargain day, and when he felt exceptionally rich and happy 
he would come home with a frosted layer cake from the baker's 
for a treat for everybody. 

All the same, the future was brighter. In Guadeloupe there was 
great need for hotel servants who could speak English, and since 
he was at home both in English and Creole French, he was going 
to go over and while butlering learn to speak book French. After 
this he intended to be a seaman, and work up to the rank of 
second officer. The British marine he knew would never give a 
man of his color such an opportunity, and he was realist enough 
to concede that captain's rank was all but out of reach even with 
the tolerant French. But as high as it was reasonable to aim he set 
his mark. 

Or sometimes Jason would talk about the supernatural. I en- 
joyed this especially, because his anecdotes were firsthand. 

Once, for instance, when he was little more than a baby, the 
Devil had come to him in the family's cliff-top garden in the 
guise of a familiar neighbor woman wheedling him to perdition. 
But already he knew the test: people walk on the ground, but 
spirits float ever so slightly above it. This woman's foot soles cast 
shadows. Staring fascinated at her, he still kept his fists gripped 


on a yam stake; and presently, vexed by his stubbornness, she 
gave up her tempting and vanished into the cassava plot. 

Another time, when he was alone in the hut one night the Evil 
One came again with a pack of spirits, scratching and scraping 
around the walls and clambering over the roof thatch. He could 
hear them gambling in the dooryard, slamming down the cards, 
shouting out the betting terms, and then in sweet whispers 
through the chinks coaxing him to join them. But as before, he 
resisted, hugging his shivering white puppy in his arms; till sud- 
denly, with howls of derisive laughter, "Tic! Tac! He slip our 
hands!" the pack screeched and whizzed away over the dark 

" 'He slip our hands!' " Jason screeched again, catching at my 
sleeve and looking me panic-stricken in the eye. There was no 
doubt about its having been a real yell that burnt itself into his 
brain that night. 

With experiences like this behind him he had some advice to 
offer. My polite way of greeting people was all well enough by 
day, but after dark, and on the Morne roads especially, I ran the 
risk of giving the spirits power over me. These wanderers, if 
spoken to, take control. "They make to dazzle you" it had 
happened so many pitiful times already and next day you are 
found crazed, or drowned, or dead at the bottom of a precipice. 

Jason was generous in more ways than in giving advice. Ho 
would appear with a plump-skinned tangerine in his pocket, or 
an avocado in which the seed rattled properly, or a bundle of 
dried khus-khus roots to scent the linen in my suitcase, One day 
he popped a "Carib handcuff" over my finger and pulled it tight 
to show how the aborigines were reputed to have made their 
prisoners writhe. Pleased with my pantomime of anguish, he gave 
it to me for a keepsake. As for his ample lore of Roseau and 
Dominica, he put it quite at my disposal 


Nor was I forgetful of him. We ate spongecakes and custard 
ice cream in a parlour he was glad to recommend, with an ultra- 
modest maid in a hat three feet broad to take the order; it was 
a spotless coop of a place, with an old drop-leaf table glistening 
darkly and a nosegay of pinks and marigolds like a floral bon- 
fire. When we parted, a shilling or so would go in his pocket: 
I knew he would make good use of the money, and he took it 
without a fuss because he knew that he was being helpful. "Good- 
by!" he would say at the boardinghouse door, "I must go home 
to play with my bird." 

One afternoon I went to see Jason's bird. It was a white long- 
legged wader, and according to all rules should have been miser- 
able in its box. But when he lay on his belly and beamed in at it 
through the slats, it turned its head on one side and looked back 
at him very cheerfully. Twice a day he took a cheesecloth bag 
to the river and netted minnows to feed it; no doubt now it was 
hoping for an extra tea party. 

At the same time I saw the Apperly house when all the family 
was at home. It was a model of condensation. Not ten feet square, 
the one room was divided by a screen that hid the bed. There 
were good coffee cups on the dresser, plenty of Bible pictures, a 
shelf of books, a gramophone, and a tiny desk at which Murchi- 
son, who was the family scholar, pursued his studies. In fact the 
place gave me several hints on how to arrange my own house, 
on my own green isle, when at last I should build it. 

Mrs. Apperly I knew no other name to call her seated her- 
self on the bed, out of sight, but where she could join in the 
talk; Murchison sat at his desk, Jason on the doorsill with his 
bird, and I on the extra chair. The house thus was very well 


filled up. We listened to a hymn played on the gramophone, and 
then to Murchison, who, leaning forward so that the failing 
daylight would illumine his Bible, read a chapter that bore on 
a point of faith raised by his mother. Meanwhile, in the court- 
yard the neighbor women were taking in clothes that had spent 
the day bleaching on piles of clean stones; the chickens went 
to roost on the handles of a decrepit wheelbarrow, and put their 
heads under their wings. 

Much though I admired this occasion, in one respect I wished 
it were different. A psalm full of subtly plain-chosen imagery 
would have been the thing to hear read in this setting, or one of 
the Lord's incomparable parables. What we got, however, was 
neither narrative nor poetry. It was a chapter of theological 
abstraction. In the face of Scripture of this kind, my brain shuts 
up like a sea anemone confronted by something that looks to be 
dangerous rather than nourishing. I tried to appear intelligent and 
even to understand how the words so earnestly read meant what 
Murchison interpreted them to mean. But it was no use. My 
expression was fatuous, my comments were foolish. I fear he sus- 
pected me ever after of being a mental lightweight. 

All the same it pleased Murchison to have the white stranger 
for a friend. We had met some days previous at Goodwill, a 
pebble beach to which Jason had led me for a swim; he had rowed 
over from town in a boat owned by the two of them, a dugout 
with keel and stem projecting like a scimitar blade in front and 
gunwales of built-up planking. In fact, it was a boat typical of 
the French Caribbees, and I was delighted to have the chance to 
try my hand in it. 

Murchison plied the oars, I the paddle, and Jason, beaming 
with pleasure to have brought his brother and his American 
friend together, curled up on the cobblestone ballast in the 
bottom. Over us Dominica leaned its great rainy mountains; its 
lee-rside sea was undulating and glassy. The world looked hand- 


some; but what made it seem a truly mouth-watering fore- 
taste of what my own island was to be and here Miranda's 
happy exclamation came echoing from The Tempest was that 
it had such people in it. 

Murchison was blest with style. Like Jason's, his bronze skin 
was perfect. His features were neat and regular, his manner, 
urbane, and his speech had that precision and schooled elegance 
that make an American notice with dismay the sound of his own 
slurred pronunciation. In speech and looks, as in his knowledge 
of theology, he gave me ground for envy. 

He also excelled Jason in these respects. Jason's English was 
picturesque and vigorous rather than aristocratic. Murchison de- 
plored its quality, and often told him to cease fraternizing with 
the waterfront loafers and sailors who taught him their low-class 

As for theology, Murchison's studies had persuaded him that 
the Catholic church in which he had been nurtured was a house 
of error, and he had saved not only himself but his mother and 
Jason from it. Mrs. Apperly, I could see, had taken to the new 
opportunity for godly disputation with deep-bosomed zest; Jason, 
too, did not regard his conversion as anything but fortunate. 
But while his elders theologized like good Witnesses, he played 
with his bird, and then went his way again among those island 
paths fringed with tufts of giant grass where the spirits wander 
and rise up, dazzling, if you speak. 

Another difference between Murchison and Jason was, that 
whereas Jason was well-to-do, Murchison was poor. Jason's 
swimming trunks, for instance, were of lilac-colored silk; he had 
bought the material and his mother had made them, to wear in 
the Jubilee diving competitions. Murchison, on the other hand, 
wore a pair of old work pants slashed off above the knee. When 
you are nineteen it takes more to be rich than when you are five 
years younger. Life costs more. True, earning power should 


increase in proportion. But it was easy to feel sorry for Murchi- 
son, in fact he did so himself, and thus I ordered a job of tailoring 
from him to give him a little business. 

The tailor shop was a hovel and the tailor who sat in its door 
was a hunchback working the treadle of his sewing machine with 
one grotesquely outstretched leg. It embarrassed Murchison to 
take me in. But it was a pleasure to introduce a white client to his 
fellow apprentices, and his apologies for the room's untidiness 
were as smooth as those later when he apologized for the poverty 
of his home. Theirs was a poor home, he told me on that already 
described occasion, and they poor people, but they did their best 
to live decently. Such remarks were the sort of thing I never 
heard from Jason, whose politeness was instinctively more subtle. 

Nor did Jason trouble me with problems in social tact. Murchi- 
son, older and more bruised by the world, was touchy, I had to 
be careful to notice him in a crowd. However, he was a far better 
musician than Jason was, for which reason I proposed that we 
spend an evening together, playing the mouth organ in the Botani- 
cal Gardens and swapping songs. Younger brothers embarrass 
older brothers at these times of artistic effort: Jason was not to be 
included. "Where shall we meet?" I asked, for even in Dominica 
black-and-white social events call for some discretion. But Mur- 
chison insisted on stopping for me at my lodgings. It would be 
no trouble for him at all, he said. 

Here he was mistaken. Pride led him rashly to ring the front 
door bell; whereupon Clarice the maid, who was several degrees 
darker than himself, told him to step around to the back. He had 
come early, too; instead of being where I could fly to the rescue, 
I was at dinner in the garden eating Creole frogs' legs very 

Out flounced Clarice, her eyes big with outrage. "This tailor 
of yours thinks that he is great, but he is NOT great!" she panted, 


pulling the dish out from under my fork and thumping it on 
the tray. 

Napkin in hand I went to see my visitor. 

"Such treatment is intolerable!" Murchison began, looking 
over the back gate. "I am humiliated especially for you: this is an 
insult more to you than to me! Let me urge that hereafter you 
notify these lodging-keepers when to expect your guests." He 
was very angry. 

There was nothing to do but to remind him that though the 
proprietors were colored like himself, their foreign patrons were 
white and often prejudiced; and that for the peace of the place 
rules were set up that I could not break even when they were 
so unpleasantly forced on my attention. It was a poor kind of 
comfort I fear. Later, when I had had time to grow more huffy 
I wished I had told him to switch from St. Paul's letters to the 
Beatitudes for his guidance, but fortunately I did not think of 
this at the time. No, I had erred in expecting Jason's easy realism 
of the fellow when I knew very well that he was a proud romantic. 

However, it is astonishing how inconsistent people can be in 
their pride. And since I have found Murchisons on every island 
just, thank heaven, as I have found serene characters like Jason 
I take pains to report the course of my relationship with these 

Within an hour proud Murchison had turned our friendly eve- 
ning into a begging party. His back-gate speech, stormily de- 
manding equal status, was followed by the elaborately approached 
plea that I make him the gift of my good mouth organ. "Or if 
you have some old worn shirts . . ." he went on, the chance to 
get something for nothing being too good not to press. He strove 
his best to push me up on the usual white man's pedestal from 
which benevolence condescendingly flows. For though it is a 
fine thing to be an equal and Murchison insisted that he was one, 


it is also very cozy to be owed consideration as an inferior, and 
Murchison wanted this too. 

As a dejected superior to a much elated inferior, I gave him 
the mouth organ for which he had begged. He played it well, 
better than I, and there was small doubt about his being unable 
to provide himself with such a luxury. He lacked Jason's re- 
sources. I also treated him to a rum or two in each of the upstairs 
places past which our path to the Gardens seemed circuitously 
to lead. Drinking, as he reflectively explained while I did the 
ordering, was contrary to his principles; however, to oblige me, 
and so on. And when the plump barmaids came close with their 
trays, I could sense the sap rising in his lean, well-tailored figure. 
My shirts I kept for myself, and after that night did not see 
much of Murchison. 

No, when I left Dominfca it was Jason who saw me off. In fact 
it was owing to his care that I got aboard my ship. Having 
arrived steerage, it was my destiny to leave on a bauxite freighter; 
she called at Roseau not on a morning as expected but in the 
middle of the night. 

Jason roused Clarice and Clarice roused me. I looked down in 
the street from my window and there was the little fellow with 
earnest face upturned. He had a boat ready and had called a porter 
to carry the heavy luggage. 

Down the empty streets we trudged, the porter behind us with 
the two suitcases piled on his head, and our shadows wheeling 
about us on the pavement when we passed a lamp. Jason was in 
his poorest clothes, they were his freighter-visiting costume. At 
two in the morning he did not expect to sell anything, but would 
go out even so and perhaps learn something that would be useful 
when he had become a seaman* 

From the officers' deck I looked down on him again, Some- 
body had given him a cigarette: he knew the crew already. He 
knew the town's cheap girls, too, who had swarmed aboard to sell 


fruit. They were in and out of the forecastle in a shameless style. 
It was all very coarse and loose and no place for a judge's son to 
be, at fourteen, no matter what his color. Poor tike! could he hold 
to his plans for a good life, I wondered? The small distance by 
which the best of us keep ahead of the Devil seemed alarmingly 
small for him in this dismal last scene. Perhaps I was having a 
glimpse of him as he really was that is, removed from our 
tombstone man's edifying influence. 

But the siren soon blew. It was time to go ashore. Out of the 
forecastle the last girls came running in gales of laughter, and 
lifted their baskets of unsold huge Dominican oranges to their 
heads again. Jason climbed up to shake hands and say good-by. 
"Safe passage!" he called as he went down the ladder. "Tomor- 
row I'm going to caulk a boat." 

It was a remark that jounced me back to cheerfulness. He had 
rounded out the term of our intimacy perfectly in key. I could 
count on him to slip through the Devil's hands as he had from 
the beginning. "Tomorrow" yes, that was Jason all over 
"tomorrow I'm going to caulk a boat." 


Chapter III. 


an ichthyologist but a son of an ichthyologist to boot* The guppies 
of our aquariums, in fact those little fish that transparently reveal 
the process of their childbearing were named in his father's 
honor. But he also is an authority on almost any phase of the 
natural history of his native Trinidad and Tobago. He has written 
a book on their butterflies. Their botany is his ice cream. And 
when he goes to London he immediately calls at the zoo to have 
a chat with the island birds there in their own island language: 
I wish I could be present at one of these reunions, to see him 
planted chubby and pink before the cages, twittering or hooting 
according to the species while the astounded birds first tip for- 
ward to cock their heads and then tip back to answer. 

Yes, Mr. Guppy is a gentleman and a scholar. From his Chan- 
cellor House tea table he looks out benignly over bustling Port- 
of-Spain at the hill's foot, to the enamel-blue surface of the Gulf 
of Paria, which every year grows busier with shipping. Or he 
putters among his fish tubs and at his writing. It is a life of fruit- 
ful tranquillity. 

Only the cook upsets him. 

"She proves that this hue and cry after slum clearance is all 


nonsense!" he will declare, starting forward in his seat. "People 
who live in the slums don't want to live otherwise. They disdain 
fresh air and sanitation. Cook has her room up here, private, cool, 
away from the smells and noises of the city clean, new, modern 
but when dinner is over, off she packs to her own hot hovel 
on I don't know what back street and lets her advantages go to 
pot. It puts me out of patience!" 

But the cook, after all, was no ichthyologist, nor a gentleman 
and a scholar. And since I belong to the younger generation, 
noted for examining the utterances of its elders to find flaws if 
possible, I examined Mr. Guppy's views to see if the cook's con- 
trary ones might not boast some merit.* 

Privacy was perhaps not what the cook wanted, at 9 P.M. 
Why should she? The white guests at Chancellor House, drink- 
ing the tea she made, gobbling her scones, and reaching enthusi- 
astically for second or third slices of her guava-jelly roll, never 
gave a thought to the author of these good things. They treated 
her to all the privacy she had need of, for the day. At night she 
wanted to talk babies and salvation with somebody who thought 
about them as she did. On the Hill, babies were important, of 
course, but they were sure to be white and all look alike; whereas 
the natal events on her own street were worthy of the shrewdest 
prophecy and speculation. As for their souls' welfare, the Hill 
gentry regarded themselves as saved per se; the subject had no 
further interest. Instead, they talked about fish not even fit to 
eat, European politics, the view, and other such stupidness. 

I belong on the side of the ichthyologists, myself. I was brought 
up to be independent of other people for my fun. Fish are com- 
pany enough much of the time. However, some human sociability 
is essential, and for a really nourishing and refreshing draught of it, 
give me plain poor people for my company. 

* There are those among the recently weaned, I notice, who are so absurd as to 
apply to my views a scrutiny of this kind. 


The art of leaning out of the window is one I studied while 
completing my education in New York: tenement friends, there, 
were certainly very expert at it, they could do it for hours at a 
time. They fetched pillows and put their elbows on them and 
their faces between their hands. This is one of the good positions. 
The chief thing to learn, however, as in formal religion, is not 
the ceremonial postures, but to appreciate the small rewards you 
get for your pains. A fat lady blowing her nose, the postman 
coming along these are the things you must learn to find worth 

In Dominica the accomplishment proved of value. Tropical 
hotels are usually in gardens, but in Roseau by great good luck 
my window opened into a maze of poor folks' houses. Thus when 
I was not out with one of the Apperly brothers I was busy 

It was a Syrian family that lived over the way. Though they 
were immigrants to Dominica, they had already learned to eat 
green coconuts for breakfast. No table needed to be spread: the 
vendor at the gate would hack the nuts open with a practiced 
cutlass, and the brass-mannered maid-of-all-work would carry 
them in. Drained of their coconut water this was breakfast's 
first course they were fetched back to be split in two for the 
second, of still jellylike meat. 

Then the boys of the family would take their baths. The prob- 
lem was to slip past that tease, the maid, without her snatching 
off the towels that they had tied around their middles. It was a 
comedy that reminded me of the leaning I'd done on Saturday 
on Roseau's upper bridge: from among the bathers below a couple 
of "golden girls" had waved up kisses and arched their bodies to 
let me enjoy what they were enjoying so much themselves, a 
forbidden public nakedness with which salutation the laughter 
that came up was as hearty and free as that of the Syrians* black 
maid now, when the boys' rude kicks at her found their mark* 

4 1 


I N 



Beside the Syrians' gate was a row of shanties. In the second 
of these lived a cobbler; he would stretch his feet out of the 
door for coolness, hammer away, and curl his lips forward in 
loud-voiced song. One afternoon, leaning back between his legs 
a friend sat peaceably with a sleepy small girl in his arms; on the 
neighboring step sat a young mother making baby clothes for 
her next; on the curb was an older woman, ironing vigorously 
on a low table set across the gutter. In fact it was a harmonious, 
Creole-jabbering, close-hearted group; I liked each member of it. 

When the "Lonely Boy" soft-drink cart came by and every- 
body had a dim ha'penny glass of something, they lifted their 
glasses and nodded to me because they knew Fd be pleased. In 
Roseau I had an easy reputation. And it did please me; inwardly 
I elected the whole batch of them to the citizenry of my island. 
Certainly, if I had been the Chancellor House cook I should have 
preferred their company of an evening to solitude in my cool 
and smell-less Hill hermitage. 

c o c o *r u T 


The Dominicans, true enough, share the cook's views and put 
them into practice. On a roomy island with uplands not only 
uninhabited but in part unexplored, they crowd themselves to- 
gether in coast towns for sociability's sake. They are quite ready 
to walk miles a day to and from their gardens on the airy heights. 
Who wants to live in a cassava patch? Town is the place for 
human beings. 

There are islands in the West Indies, however, where this free- 


dom of choice is not responsible for crowded living. Vivimos 
como cuatro en un zapato, say the Puerto Ricans, who do not 
altogether like it: "We live four in one shoe." There are over 500 
of them, as a matter of statistics, to each square mile; and since 
most of each mile in an agricultural country must be used for 
agriculture, these five hundred people see a good deal of each 
other on the little corner of it that is left for them to live in. 

But Puerto Rico is not the West Indies' sole example of a 
crowded populace, nor is it the most extreme. Carriacou, not yet 
discovered by the sociologists, supports a peasant population of 
700 to the mile; these stoics subsist, too, without any source of 
fresh water except as they catch it in rainstorms and store it 
away in cisterns. As for Barbados, that island's uncomfortable 
boast is 1,100 inhabitants per mile: how in the name of Euclid 
can so little ground grow enough sugar to support so many 

In such places the delights of sociability are not optional, as 
with the Dominicans or the Chancellor House cook. They are 
obligatory. The air incessantly rustles with the noise of conversa- 
tion. Every country road tends to become a street, 

But Barbados's crowded living is an old thing. The island has 
had time long since to adjust itself to life four in one shoe. Major 
George Washington, who brought his ailing brother to Barbados 
for his health, marveled at its populousness in 1752. In its long 
prime the island was the money-maker, the darling, the peerless 
one among British colonies. Its exquisitely quiet country church- 
yards, its gracious old mansions in aristocratically spacious lawns, 
give the island a kind of beauty that not one other in the Antilles 
can duplicate. And with these surviving graces comes the still 
comforting aroma of gilt-edged securities, to which charms 
against fate the island owes much of its continuing stability. 

But dividends from the outside world, gingerly dispensed for 
goods and services, cannot forever span the gap between island 


earnings and the needs of a bottled-up but still growing populace. 
Bridgetown, where the idlers most gather, is not altogether a 
pleasant place for a white visitor. The streets echo with impor- 
tunities. When a tenacious pander followed me indoors while I 
had my hair cut, to continue his whispering whenever the bar- 
ber's back was turned, it made me itch. "Enormous populations, 
if they be beggars, are disgusting, like moving cheese the more 
the worse," said Emerson: it is an itchy dictum. For what this 
pest illustrated was the lengths to which people must go, in 
crowded places, to earn their keep. 

In Carriacou money is far scarcer and arable land not much 
more abundant per capita than in Barbados. The island neverthe- 
less seems more happy. Limes and Marie Galante cotton are the 
only sources of its revenue, if you except the labor some Carria- 
couans do in Venezuela and Cayenne (they return with their 
wages romantically in gold dust). But the land is owned almost 
wholly by the people who work it. What little revenue it does 
produce goes directly into the pockets of their own much patched 

Too poor to support a cinema, they are mercifully spared a 
comparison of their lives with those lived in the wonderland of 
Hollywood. It does not occur to them to miss champagne at 
breakfast. In fact white colonials, always expensive for colored 
natives to ape, do not exist in their community. The clergy come 
from elsewhere, true enough, like Gouyave's or like those white 
gods that freakish winds used sometimes to bring to the New 
World from European shipwrecks in pre-Columbian days. But 
the habits of these outsiders are necessarily frugal, and their color 
singularity, as in the case of the old shipwrecked gods, no doubt 
gives them a special spiritual value. 

Thus, in a healthful climate and amid seas well supplied with 
fish, the islanders live on as near one plane of social equality as 
conveniently can be found. Instead of some dwelling in man- 


sions, some in hovels, every house is modest. Lived in by their 
owners, most of them are well kept. "Slum clearance" has come 
as a natural process since the old days of the sugar estates; the 
results are rather heartening. 

Where revenue is small and the land your own, you grow as 
much of your food as you can to avoid sending money elsewhere 
for it. The automatic result is a garden community of a kind. To 
prowl Lesterres's roadlike streets, for example, winding among 
mixed tracts of field and garden and orchard, with nets drying 
on the palmy seabeach below and no super-landlord anywhere 
in sight, is an experience not un-Arcadian. 

Or such a poor town as Mount Tryall might please even Mr. 
Guppy, though no alley in the back quarters of Port-of -Spain 
could show dwellings more rudimentary. Certainly he would 
find the place well aired: its trees are pollarded to the point of 
butchery to provide fodder for the cattle; besides, it is perched 
on a windy ridge with the glittering expanse of Atlantic and 
Caribbean far below, and a long green-brown mantle of cotton 
fields draped over the hill's descending folds. Nor are the huts 
the tottering kind, to suggest that their occupants devote the day 
to reading movie magazines and wishing life were grander. Even 
a mud house can look self-respecting, and this the Mount Tryall 
houses do. In them, moreover, no beggars live for which reason, 
if I were to settle in a crowded place, a peasant-owned island like 
Carriacou would be the one for me. 

But crowds can be a nuisance as I saw very plainly in Carriacou 
when Elfrida, who milked the cow at the back door morning and 
evening, offered to teach me some of the old French Creole 
songs. Not at the house, she insisted, because she would be 
laughed at. We went across the street into the shade of a tamarind 
growing by the sea. 

This was out of the frying pan and no mistake* In three minutes 
Elfrida was hurling rocks to keep her friends at a respectful dis- 


tance she was a natural-mannered country girl. But defense was 
vain. There were not half enough rocks at hand to maim the tor- 
menters who came swarming. No, Elfrida broke down. Over- 
whelmed with indignation and embarrassment she sat all in a 
huddle. "I wonder the gentleman don't ax to take a snap of you, 
you look so ugly/' tittered one onlooker and got his face slapped. 
There was a big laugh. 

Perhaps it was because I had footed the hill roads and coasts 
all day and was dog-tired, or perhaps it was my soul's kinship 
with Emerson and Mr. Guppy something suddenly made it im- 
perative to bolt. I had to get away from these maggots. They 
were making me itch. Slam went the door behind me when I 
shut out the too teeming world. And then most aggravating of all 
was to perceive that the one ditty I had been quick enough to jot 
was a jewel a conjuration against the Evil Eye's turning a 
gardener's greens to weeds. Some day, armed with more social 
patience, I shall go back to Carriacou and wheedle Elfrida to 
resume the lesson. 

In Puerto Rico, where land is plentiful according to the Bar- 
badian scale and the Carriacouans would find cash incredibly 
abundant, these blessings are not very well distributed. But say- 
ing this does not settle the question of what to do next. The 
problem of distribution is a puzzler when those to whom you 
make wealth available, instead of being individually enriched by 
it, are only made more numerous. 

The benefits the Puerto Ricans have gained from their con- 
nection with Uncle Sam are unfortunately of just this nature. A 
vast segment of that reproachful people would yet slumber in 


limbo if our blundering old codger had not made them economic 
possibilities. The island's crowding, unlike Barbados's, is recent. 

Nor has the crush led to a modest standard of desires as in 
Carriacou, though God knows the Puerto Ricans display fortitude 
of the most sinewy kind in doing without what we should call 
necessities. Money they must have. It is the basis of life. There 
are always people in sight who do have plenty of it, and to habits 
of wealth these poor Latins are fatally susceptible. At cockfights 
and the races it is not sporting to bet according to your purse; 
the cinema, motor travel, and clothes of fashionable cut are indis- 
pensable. Home, however, as a place on which it is a pleasure to 
lavish money and care is not much of a hobby. If sacrifices must 
be made there are already so many babies to make them for that 
mere real estate is subject to neglect. At any rate Puerto Rico's 
city poor, for some reason or other, live in slums fit to stop a 
visitor in his tracks. 

The island has many fine sights to show, model housing schemes 
included in the number. The fortifications of San Juan are among 
the world's most impressively tremendous: here for once is a 
Spanish seaport which in the filibusters' swashbuckling seven- 
teenth century was never ravished. The panorama from the coleus- 
banked road above Cayey is like Moses's glimpse of the Promised 
Land. The Arecibo Valley with its vine-draped cliffs reflected in 
the river, and feathery groves of giant canes, is to my mind the 
handsomest in the Antilles: the very view of it from the sea, miles 
distant, suggests a gateway to the fabulous. As for the endless 
hard-surface highways tunneling between scarlet-flowered flam- 
boyant trees, here is something genuinely unique to this lucky 
island. But if the extraordinary is to be included with the beau- 
tiful, the city slums also deserve remark. 

In San Juan I prowled neighborhoods of teeming shanties built 
in the tidal swamps, where children grow up playing on rickety 
plank runways, and yesterday's offal drifts back and forth beneath 


them, mingled with today's. The top of the beach at Arecibo, a 
no man's land too unsafe in a storm for commercial building, 
has been crammed with teetering hovels, streetless and without 
plumbing as usual; in fact the beach below is not only play- 
ground but a mile-long latrine. The hill quarters by Ponce's 
picturesque old aqueduct are studies in scrap-bag architecture, 
heaped, jumbled, jammed together, and overrun, believe me, with 
naked babies. 

Such sights bring the vats of indignation to the seething point; 
however, as when Mr. Guppy spoke his piece, it is well to take 
the cook's views into consideration before letting the vats boil 
over. The slums of Puerto Rico have this point of superiority 
when compared with those of Barbados or New York that they 
are built by the people who live in them. Like shantytowns any- 
where, these dumps reflect a spirit of independence and self-help 
that is healthy even though they themselves are not. 

On land (or in shallow water) too precarious to lure capital 
investment the poor take squatters' privilege. Slowly collecting 
ragtags of lumber, packing cases, and bits of tin, they build some- 
thing as near the heart's desire as circumstances seem to warrant. 
The process is laborious I have held a bit of crating in place 
myself while a crooked nail was being driven but it is far faster 
and more automatic than benevolent housing schemes engineered 
from above. And if some of the builders spend as much on the 
horses on one unlucky Sunday as they do on home sweet home 
in a year and call the balance even, they think differently from 
me, but this does not necessarily mean that they are depraved or 

Another point that I, a Northerner, must be cautious to remem- 
ber is that West Indians who live six to a room are very little in it. 
Theirs is an outdoor existence in the tropics. Shelter is not so 
needful nor so dear to them as to me and mine in Minnesota. 
Sleeping, too, poses less of a problem than a Northerner would 


expect. Four children in a bed is not out of the question when 
covers are not required: two heads go at the foot of the bed, two 
at the head, that's that. I have seen it done. Of course it must be 
tiresome to wake and find little sister's big toe screwed in your 
ear, but the thing to do is to unscrew it and go back to sleep. 

As for social pleasures, these city slums provide a perpetual 
abundance. There is always somebody ready for a crap game or 
to talk babies and novenas. Music thrives in a vulgar soil I recall 
a back-street concert in Mayagiiez, for instance, of a quality rare 
in quarters of greater cultural advantage. 

Ten men were crowded in the little room, they had three 
guitars among them. Overhead a dim lamp flared; the curl of 
their glossy hair reflected its gleam, or a bronze brow, or a moist 
thrust-out lower lip, or the curves and strings of the instruments 
they played. 

Between pieces there was laughter and joking. Each singer 
wished to pass off his just finished effort as a trifle not worthy 
of the applause given it. But at the first note of the next song 
what a change! Some heads were bowed. Others were lifted back, 
eyes closed. It was like a company of masks and statues. 

Meanwhile the artist, sitting on the out-cdgc of his chair, struck 
his instrument, and delivered his heart into our hands. He was 
inspired oracular. Phrases begun as guttural snarls or falsetto 
whimpers ended full-throated, coppery, and triumphant. Others, 
twisting up in arabesques loudly melancholy, sank away again in 
husky whispers. Then would come a stanza coldly expressionless 
that stood my hair on end. 

This was a serious occasion. But nowhere better than in a set- 
ting like it, with rude girls pushing and the table wet with spilled 
liquor, do the rollicking songs start up. Their humor sets the 
children in the windows to grinning and tittering, hands clap, 
and the refrain, bawled out a hundred times, is every time bawled 


with more abandon. It is a soul exercise of a kind that stretches 
the soul muscles to delicious elasticity. 

The paradoxical truth is that slum life boasts its own positive 
joys and comforts. My father had a fishing coat that my mother 
several times threw away; but he would fetch it back again from 
the ash can and give it a shake: its spots were dear to him, and 
when he caught a fish he could wipe his hands without making 
the old coat smell one jot fishier. Men love old clothes because 
they feel free in them. Some people love the slums for a like 
reason, the Chancellor House cook among the number. 

In fact there is something of the slums in all of us that needs 
intercourse with the gutter now and then. Or if you prefer the 
classic terms, let me say an earthiness that needs reunion with the 
earth. The great works of art, the Shakespeare plays, the Bibles, 
have room and fearlessness to do this. They feed not only the 
ethereal sweetness that is in us but our necessary ordures. People 
like Jason Apperly who sink some of their roots in a rowdy 
water-front society that is, in the dirt have perhaps as good a 
chance at good growth as the Murchisons who turn upside down 
and plant themselves in the windy skies of speculative theology. 
Murchison's boughs, as a matter of fact, showed a disappointing 
tendency to scrape the ground. 

On my island there will be no slums, however. I am positive 
about that. My town will be a flowerier Gouyave or a more com- 
pact Lesterres. Like Mr. Guppy I belong neither on the peaks 
nor in the mud ours is a middle zone. For food ethereal, give 
me FitzGerald's unaspiring letters; for Antaean coupling with 
crude Mother Earth, a garden, not too large. But when I lean on 
my trowel and remember the crowded places of the isles, some- 
times I wonder if mine well can do without one. Should my island, 
the question is, be bowdlerized? 


Chapter IV. 


a fondness for horses and cup custards is likely to enjoy Cuba. 

To be good, cup custards must be smooth. The secrets of 
achieving this the Cuban cooks perfectly know, they make them 
every day. In fact, in the broad realm of the cooking of eggs Cuba 
inherits the full grandeur of Hispanic tradition. Shirred eggs 
malaguena, at the old Ambos Mundos in Havana, are an experi- 
ence to be remembered with no halfhearted thankfulness. 

As for horses, the only kind I know how to manage at present 
are those under a drafting table; still this does not prevent my 
admiring the flesh and blood kind that neigh and switch their 
tails. Unsaddled, they look noble and mythological; on which 
sort of creature in my own free island life, God help me to gallop 
into the brine each morning for a jointly-relished bath! For 
nothing seems more enviable to me or more truly lordly than 
the kind of riding, neither "professional'* nor fancy, that is as 
effortless as breathing such, for instance, as you sec everywhere 
in Santa Clara or Camaguey provinces in Cuba, over the broad 
grasslands and down the cane-field lanes. 

Of English lessons, too, it is a pleasure to speak* They give me 
opportunity to brag of an uncle who, with the unlikely talisman 
of a doctor's thesis on French Agglutinations in "de" tucked in 


his vest, went to Latin America and made a fortune. First, how- 
ever, this philologist wanted some practical Spanish, and his 
method of acquiring it in a hurry was to go to Madrid and give 
English lessons. Pupils, as I have often heard him say, teach you 
so much. The blunders they make reveal where their language 
differs from yours in idiom on which differences, in Madrid, 
he was quick to seize, and so left Old Spain soon for the New, 
jabbering Spanish like a born Iberian. 

This method of learning another language has always seemed 
beautiful to me. Its simplicity and its perversity give it a double 
charm. Moreover, when you teach other people your language 
they are the ones to make jackasses of themselves, not you. Yours 
is the part of charity, dignity, and repose. 

All the same, my approach to the foreign languages has always 
been the groveling kind. Unlike my uncle I am not a linguist 
born, and so until I got to Cuba I writhed and agonized and was 
ridden by some teacher or other who knew a great deal more 
than I did about the subject in hand. It was a career of mortifica- 
tion. Even in Cuba, at first, my panic upon hearing the clickety- 
clack of talk in the streets sent me crawling to a tutor. Could she, 
would she, help me to untie the knot of bashfulness at the root 
of my tongue and take the wax out of my baffled ears? 

Poor woman, she did her best. It was all very painful. Even 
now I see the grille on her stair, and Please ring the bell written 
in English under the Spanish phrase, as if phooey! I couldn't 
read the latter. 

Our. efforts were not without fruit. Everybody in Havana 
speaks English, people say, though this is by no means true: that 
teeming city can blot up a horde of tourists without changing 
its complexion. I, for one Havanese, spoke Spanish, bewildering 
the waiters with pippy-voiced requests for la sal or el vinagre, 
and stepping up to the barber with an anxiously rehearsed speech 
meaning "Please cut my hair." 


In that barbershop scene I must have looked a lamb come to 
the shearing, or perhaps in my attempt to sound offhand I said 
"Please cut my horses/' the words for "horse" and "hair" being 
much alike. At any rate the barber, who was learning English in 
a night class, implored me to address him in that language. He 
wanted the practice. And with a bow he produced a news- 
paper published by his fellow students, for me to examifte while 
I had my hair (or horses) cut. 

The joke column, written all in English by these hard-working 
learners, was indeed very funny. As my uncle says, it is the mis- 
takes people make in using your language that reveal the structure 
of theirs. However, I had no time to reflect upon such clues, I 
was too busy giving the barber the lesson he craved. In class, as 
he had managed to grumble, they tended to discuss the pencil, 
the inkwell, and the pen, whereas what he yearned for was 
English to help him in the barber business. 

This I labored to supply. When next an American had his 
horses cut in that white tile cave, "Wet or dry?" my student 
inquired at the end of the process, brushing him off with a happy 

If in this episode I began to sense that English was a sort of 
currency in Cuba, to be generous with which could be a kindness, 
I guessed it all the more clearly when I got into the provincial 
cities, Matanzas for one. 

Matanzas is a big, out-of-hand seaport that sprawls around a 
bay and pushes up a hill or two. It has a sleepy cathedral in its 
middle, and on the road to La Playa a neighborhood of villas, 
gray, classic, and columnar, like Pompeii before the eruption. 
There are caves near by for people not yet sick of caves. Best of 
all, above it looms a breezy ridge where the casino maintains a 


shrine of religious pilgrimage, the Cuban Monserrate. This is a 
spot worth visiting, and a great many people go there without 
need of advice from me, to solicit miracles of the Virgin and to 
eat ice cream. 

Eastward from the Monserrate the hill drops away toward the 
harbor, with the city in its lap: the various-tinted plaster facets of 
the houses gleam in the strong sunshine, the two rivers glint, and 
sounds of bells rise from the belfries that protrude from among 
the brown tile roofs. The other way, behind the ridge, lies the 
Vale of Yumuri, a bowl among tawny hills, floored with the fresh 
green of sugar cane and dotted with gray-boled palms. 

Nor is the ridge top one of those usual hills in the tropics, 
where you arrive in a flood of perspiration only to find the view 
concealed by the bushes. Its grass is as smooth as the casino's billiard 
tables down in the city, and on the benches well-pruned laurel 
trees cast their shade. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasing 
site for an English lesson, which was what it was used for on the 
day of my visit. 

On the way up I had had a Spanish lesson of a kind. Down the 
road toward me whistled a car containing a young islander and 
his girl; and since their speed was such that the next hairpin bend 
could not be negotiated, they shot through a barbed-wire fence 
instead and smash-bang on into the brambles. Why they did not 
go off one of the several near-by cliffs I cannot say. No, these 
sweethearts of the Jazz Age lit right side up, the girl leaning 
back in a nerveless style and the boy springing out instantly to 
give the radiator several smart and angry slaps. What he told his 
car while it cowered there on the hillside was intended to teach 
it never to do such a thing again. 

Having noted the idioms employed and that nobody was killed 
or injured, I plodded on shrineward and heavenward and soon 
was giving the English lesson of which I have already spoken. 

My student was a Cuban with his coat over one arm and his 


straw hat on the back of his hea'd. He was a mathematician by 
intention but a rural school teacher temporarily, for the reason 
that all schools of higher (or even high school) learning on the 
island had been closed for several years. Before he could go on 
with his calculus and theory of real numbers he was having to 
mark time like so many others of his stalled generation. 

But marking time is impossible for some people. This chap, 
while Havana University stood locked up to humble its political 
pride, would toil up to the Monserrate when his school was out 
and occasionally find sight-seeing Americans who were willing 
to help him with his English. Perhaps a catch-as-catch-can edu- 
cation has a special virtue in it: certainly my student showed a 
zeal I do not remember in the classrooms of my own college days. 

Not to be outdone in ardor, I gave him what help I could, 
perched there above some of earth's most celebrated landscapes. 
With soul recently seared by the Havana Spanish lessons, I was in 
a mood to teach. Oh, the bliss of being on top again! Nor was I 
anything but patient, admiring, and distinct of utterance. The 
recent date of rny tutoring also saw to that There was not a 
moment's relaxation until the sun was ready to set, at which time 
we arose and, dusting off the seats of our pants, trudged down 
into the sloping streets of the city. 

But even on such laborious occasions as this, in Cuba, I would 
sometimes think with discouragement how remote is the pos- 
sibility of achieving mutual understanding when not only terms 
are dissimilar but the things they represent. Even such a quite 
simple word as "door" can bring different images to people of 
different countries. 

Certainly an American in Cuba soon observes that the house 
doors are of an unfamiliar bigness. When a Cuban dies, it would 
seem that he doesn't want his pallbearers to bark their knuckles 
on the way out; in fact the door is built large enough to admit 
a hearse. Its two huge leaves, studded with iron stars, are seldom 


unclosed. Doors cut within these doors do for the comings 
and goings of every day. To bid one open, you thump a knocker 
cast in the form of a dangling hand with a ball in its fingers, and 
then step through, A bridal party enters or the trash is fetched 
out, all at this same portal: it is front door, back door, and often 
garage door too; and when a Cuban tot learns the word, this is 
the formidable institution it henceforth will bring to mind. 

Through such a door my grateful student ushered his teacher; 
and as he turned the key he made a beautiful little speech, put- 
ting the premises unconditionally at my disposal Here was my 
Matanzas home. 

It seemed delightful to acquire a house with a patio in it full 
of roses in return for an afternoon of amateur pedagogy. I looked 
about with real interest. But again terms were misleading. My 
Matanzas home was not a "house" in the Minnesota sense. Rather, 
it was a series of cool masonry caves arching loftily one into the 
other, all facing the gay small garden, paved with glistening tile, 
and with a spiral staircase corkscrewing its way through the dining 
room ceiling into my host's wizardlike study above. 

These arrangements I liked immediately, and also my host's 
mother, a merry, gray, wrenlike lady. The cook, too, pleased. 
She was a graceful colored girl with gold hoops in her ears, to 
whom it was a rapture to hear the young master conversing in 
the foreign gibberish. 

We had coffee in the patio, and I was shown a letter from 
another American who had given this student a boost toward 
better English. "She says she has been visiting some shut-ins," he 
pointed out, adding, "People in jail, I presume?" 

I elucidated. It was an expression a Cuban might readily mis- 
translate. "Now we shall have a Spanish lesson!" he cried, fresh 
as a daisy, and asked in his own language what I had enjoyed 
most during my stay in Cuba. 

After the question had been repeated a couple of times I caught 


it, and for want of another inspiration, though not without some 
honesty, replied, "The cup custards," which he thought very 
whimsical. I had not yet got into Santa Clara or Camagiiey prov- 
inces to see the riding there or I might have said that. But that, 
too, he probably would have found droll. Unlike help in English, 
a new gift counted as a blessing, the old gifts of good custards or 
of effortless riding are things the Cubans take for granted. 

Traveling down to the south coast a few days later to Santfsima 
Trinidad, I resolved to give more English lessons* But there was 
no ring of purpose in this. I was being facetious to avoid being 
anxious. Going down to that neglected city, cut off even from the 
Cuban world by its own jealous range of mountains, was like 
throwing myself out of an upstairs window: I hoped to land in 
comfort but there was a good chance I might not. How primitive 
a place should I find? And how difficult, with my scanty Spanish, 
was it going to be to settle myself in it? 

For these times of dread Fate saves some of her plcasantest sur- 
prises- Not only did I give English lessons in Trinidad, but these 


led on to musical parties at which my soulful senoritas and their 
English teacher, with bosoms aheave and refreshments after- 
ward, swapped Bach and Albeniz, Handel and Lecuona pieces on 
a stately piano whose keyboard the climate had so browned that 
it looked like a long slab of gingercake, entirely without the usual 
landmarks of black and white. When during one of these soirees, 
I looked around me at the patio with the thick old pear tree in it 
and the chaperoning aunts more agog than anybody over the fun 
we were having, it seemed like one of the occasions I was plan- 
ning for my own island's high jinks. 

Even the ride in to Trinidad proved memorable. Though I had 
not realized it until I began working my way from city to city 
down Cuba's long backbone, the island is an oceanic extension of 
Texas, with palms. For the most part it is level excellent farm 
land. Such landscapes I much enjoy. But in time a traveler craves 
novelty, and thus when we turned from the rolling plains of 
Santa Clara into the Trinidad mountains my half-shut eyes popped 
wide awake, to peer into the valleys through which the train came 

By the time we had reached Yznaga the valleys had broadened: 
here were both kinds of Cuban beauty, untamed mountain and 
fruitful plain. On a knoll in the village an antique tower, of 
seven tiers of arches, mysteriously beetled; another way, under 
the horizontal boughs of enormous trees, was a white-walled, tile- 
roofed, spread-out ranch headquarters. Ox teams strained down 
the converging roads and horsemen came riding in, in Wild West 
whirls of dust sombreros curling, square-tailed pleated shirts 
worn outside the riding breeches, machetes dangling in leather 
scabbards, and boots stitched in florid patterns, well equipped 
with spurs. At Yznaga I saw Cuban horsemanship at its most 

Trinidad came soon after, at dusk. Against the darkening hill 
of La Vigf a there was a sudden glimpse of church gables and pink 


campaniles; then with a jolt the train stopped in what in Spanish 
days had been the barracks. And very soon, as if dropped into 
the middle of a comic-opera performance, I was dining at the 
Canada on eggs rancher a with a glass of claret and cracked ice in 
the old-time Caribbean style. 

Meals at the Canada were always theatrical. But was I an on- 
looker or an actor? The front of the establishment rolled up like 
a roll-top desk, and what went on in the street was certainly 
amusing. There were the horsemen clattering over the cobbles, 
princely and debonair; also droop-necked pack trains, donkeys 
and their tattered drivers, or an oxcart drawn up to unload the 
crooked wood that sent such a smoke from our kitchen into the 
grimy patio. Beggars and vendors of lottery tickets leaned in to 
chant their chorus of needs and numbers, while the band played 
in the plaza opposite and the townspeople strolled and strolled. 

Then again it seemed that the action was indoors and that the 
passers-by who always stopped for a look were the audience. 

A troop of cowboys, very bashful, would slowly fold their legs 
into place at table, awed by the glitter of the metropolis and the 
gorgeousness of the tooth-paste advertising that filled the walls. 
The traveling men in white suits ironed to look like oilcloth con- 
versed in Latin frenzy, pointing quivering fingers in witness to 
heaven and strewing the tables and floor copiously with bread 
crumbs. Curro, the cross-eyed Andalusian valet, tore in and out 
with his shirt-tail flying, while Quico the regular waiter bowed 
his way around some party dinner table with a platter of rice and 
chicken aglisten with pimento slices. 

There was the judge in his solemn blue spectacles, and his plump 
and languorous-eyed wife. There was the bootblack who sang 
while he snapped his cloths by the door, and Senor Rafael Ber- 
gansa, supple-waisted and fashionable, who would make a dash 
for the lopsided piano and comb loud* glib, joyful music from it, 
pulling recklessly at the lever that made cymbals clash in time 


with the bass. At his desk sat our proprietor, glasses well down 
on nose, pinching the breasts of the chickens brought in for sale 
to learn if they were fat, which set the modest hens to thrashing 
their wings. And of course here was the American foreigner, eat- 
ing a custard and over it helping young Luis de Zayas Font with 
his English. 

My friend Luis was the proprietor's nephew. Some day he will 
inherit the business, &nd with this future before him, a city ab- 
surdly picturesque about him, and a mountain hinterland well 
supplied with picnic dells for a second zone, he wisely wishes to 
prepare himself for the amerwanos who may suddenly rush in. 
Thanks to his kindness I was soon introduced into salons of neg- 
lected old-time Cuban grandeur, and climbed rickety stairs into 
several old towers. As well as he could, too, he told me stories of 
the place, of misers and fantastic spendthrifts, of miraculous 
crosses and pirate crimes. Cortez sailed to the conquest of Mexico 
after recruiting in Trinidad what were to prove some of his most 
famous aids. The city was founded a century before Jamestown, 
and thus has had time to accrete a fund of anecdote. 

Thanks to Luis, too, of course, I was launched as an English 
teacher with a class of five. On my first morning in town I met 
the group's paid instructor, a roly-poly Cuban who was an in- 
ventor on the side. He had invented a typewriter ribbon that was 
going to be a godsend to the world, and for a specimen of what 
it could do he rattled off his name and address: "Medardo Marrero, 
On the Post Office, Trinidad." I was much impressed. This was 
followed by an invitation to return and meet the class, and so give 
the young ladies especially, ha, ha, ha!, a chance to hear the speech 
of a real English-speaking man. 

To have my facetious resolve so promptly possible of fulfill- 
ment was a joke too good to spoil. Ergo, at ten o'clock the session 

Imagine the paralysis among the students, brought to this en- 


counter without a word of warning. The young ladies were mute, 
the young gentlemen could fetch out nothing but blurts, while 
Senor Marrero stormed up and down because they refused to 
illustrate the proficiency he had claimed to have taught them. 

But animal spirits and curiosity soon revived. When the con- 
versation, established on the familiar rocks of the pencil, the ink- 
well, and the pen, turned to airplane travel, Cuban music, or 
Minnesota winters, everybody found something to ask or tell; 
the give and take, half Spanish, half English, became almost too 
deafeningly animated. Meanwhile the Marrero family, one head 
over another like targets at a fair, gazed in through a partly open 
inner door; and on the street-door sill a trio of little darky girls 
paused to sit and listen. 

However, I had not come to Cuba to teach English, really. 
That first morning when I took over Senor Marrero's duties I felt 
most accommodating. But teaching people who are greedy to 
learn and who regard your unexpected descent from nowhere 
with almost the astonishment and interest that Columbus roused 
in his day, has its fascination. Like playing poker or eating salted 
peanuts, it lures a man on. 

I found my evenings being given over to preparations for the 
morrow to trying to devise exercises that were not merely useful 
but marked by some contemporaneity and zip. And in the morn- 
ings I found myself brushing the regular teacher aside in a way 
that must sometimes have approached the brusque. Poor man! 
from noisy participation he passed to blowing smoke rings and 
rocking in a rocking chair and then, practically an outcast, to 
spending the time next door "on the post office*" 

From these lively sessions my path led on into musicales and 
mountain drives and I felt very happy. "Now we shall get ready!" 
the chauffeur would exclaim jovially after we had been ushered 
into the back seat; burrowing under the front, he would fetch 
out an old-time hand pump to harden up the tires. The Trinidad 


streets are paved with cobbles, as we rode over them each of us 
looked like twins. But the country roads were smoother, toward 
Sancti Spfritus, that hoary villa, or the Rio Cafia with its cascades 
and bamboos. 

Frequent repairs made it necessary to take a mechanic with us. 
He was a merry fellow in a plum-colored suit; and though his 
straw hat looked neat enough from the front, the back of it had 
been eaten away by a goat one day when he was at a funeral 
Chico Luis, at the story, fell forward in a helpless fit of laughter. 

And so away to the more sophisticated main-line world again, 
to Camagiiey and its saddlery shops, Holguin and eggs madrilena, 
and to Santiago de Cuba with its narrow streets and broad, solemn 
doors. Cuba was too big an island for me to want for mine, but 
the memory of it haunts me as sharply as if it had been a little 
one: I hear again the loud flute octaves in lamp-lit plazas, while 
the strollers gesticulate and gabble their Spanish, and sad-voiced 
hawkers come and go. I smell again the good smell of brown 
saddle leather and taste the good taste of a Cuban custard. 

For Spain's arts still govern in her Antillean last-lost colonies. 
The old music, new-blended with the African, still pierces the 
heart with its strange monotonies; the old architecture, sprouting 
in new forms, brings to the cities an ornate and courtly charm. 
Climbing the hill streets of Trinidad or Matanzas the Passion 
Week pageantry with its bleeding Saviours, trumpet shrieks, and 
lurching forests of lighted candles, rekindles the dark splendor 
of Spain's Catholicism in the islands. And new again in Cuba, but 
familiar and terrific, the sins and enthusiasms of Spanish politics 
break out in jets of aspiring patriotism, and in graft and tyranny. 

As for my English lessons, they did not change the island , 
much less in fact than it has been anglicized by American "big 
business." Nor did I learn much Spanish while I was at them. 
However, they made an alien place homelike for the stranger: 


I think affectionately of the big Cuban doors because not a few 
of them proved friendly. 

Of the schools that gave me the creeps then, with their blind 
windows and padlock-gagged entrances, I think kindly too, 
though they have been reopened since under the eye of the mili- 
tary. Mum in those days, they gave me my chance to talk. When 
I left Cuba I left not only pupils but friends behind the lessons 
in fact continue by correspondence. 

Chapter V. 


went to synagogue on Saturday. The cupboard doors were laid 
back heavily on their silver hinges, the scrolls of the Law were 
revealed, crowned nobly with silver crowns; and the cantor, 
dreamy and lost in devotion, filled the solemn old room with 
chanted Hebrew. 

Overhead the brass chandeliers reflected a blue light from the 
gallery lunettes in their tier on tier of clustered hurricane glasses. 
The floor under foot was sanded with coral dust. And in the stout 
old mahogany pews about me sat the merchants of Curasao, 
industriously chatting. 

To psalms intoned Sabbath after Sabbath since Bong David's 
time there is no longer much necessity to listen, perhaps; however, 
I listened, and once in a great while some not wholly unfamiliar 
woidshdom, say, for "peace" would dart from the torrent 
of sonorous gibberish to lodge in my pleased brain. I refused the 
loan of a prayer shawl, but ever after on the narrow streets of 
the Punda quarter the city Jews bowed to me when our ways 

Sunday, the next day, I went to the state church. It was evening; 
the sentries at the tunnel under the palace saluted when the Dutch 
officials came gliding into the courtyard in their sleek motorcars; 
the church's high steps and high windows were cheerfully alight. 


Inside, the pastor climbed to a pulpit pasted like a baroque swal- 
lows' nest against the wall. When he called the hymn and we 
Dutchmen broke into the substantial harmonies of a Protestant 
chorale it was a moment of grandeur. 

As for the sermon, I listened to it with all my ears. Dutch looks 
a puzzle in print, but spoken earnestly from a pulpit it sounds 
much like what it means, or so I was pleased to imagine. Since I 
was a male, respectably dressed though an unknown, I was seated 
with the petty officials in the box pews at the pastor's left. All 
faces, like mine, were upturned in studious attention; all necks, 
at our happy task of singing, grew cherry red: the housewifely 
bosoms of the ladies in the square center of the room inflated 
and deflated in the same religious enterprise. 

Only the governor's pew was vacant. After the last amen, 
thus, when we came out into the warm gloom again, it was good 
to note that one sole window was all that was lighted in the 
palace at the extreme end of the building, as if His Excellency 
were feeling ashamed of himself. But the sentries saluted the lesser 
officialdom very smartly, and ever afterward on Wilhelminaplein 
or Queen Emma Bridge these grave bigwigs bowed when we 
chanced to meet. 

Monday was All Saints' Day so I went to Mass. Whether all 
Catholic choirs in Curasao are as angelic as that which sings in 
the cathedral in Otrabanda I wish I could report. However, I did 
not neglect to wait, that day, to see what these angel voices might 
look like in the flesh: down the loft stairs they canie tumbling at 
last, clerks and stevedores and taxi drivers colored boys in well- 
starched suits of holiday white, all very ready for the holiday fun 
now before them. The choirmaster, whom I stole up to see, was 
angelic enough. Pillbox cap on head, he sat all alone under the 
low arch of the roof, serenely reading his breviary. 

The old priest I never saw again, my bowing list was not length- 
ened by even one name thanks to that days' churchgoing. For 


there is nothing exclusive about Catholicism in Curasao. Strange 
faces were as much to be expected as familiar ones in that big con- 
gregation. This was the people's church, unblushingly popular: 
Mass was said in Latin, of course, but the sermon was preached 
and notices were read in Papiamento, the island's low-brow ver- 

The study of language is one of those hobbies for which I wish 
I had more time. Why wasn't I born twins, to let half of me put 
in some real licks on philology? But being the one-brained ama- 
teur that I am and the repose of the island life being not yet mine 
to use, this branch of knowledge finds me shining in it as ineffec- 
tually as in all the others. Current usage in my mother tongue, in 
fact, often brings me to a nonplus. "English it is a speech very 
difficult!" cried one of my senoritas during a lesson in Cuba; to 
which heart-cry, with a wink, I could only respond, "We find it 
rather hard ourselves." 

As for the foreign tongues, I love them, but only as a good 
Christian loves his enemies, to wit, with both cheeks smarting. 
German was my first try, and well do I remember her parting 
slap. The prepositions that govern the dative case I had memorized 
so devotedly that I can recite them yet. It was the same with those 
governing the accusative. But those very common ones that some- 
times govern the one and sometimes the other how could I pre- 
dict their effect in any given instance? This it appeared was a 
matter of psychic "feel," at which cruel news my heart sank, and 
after that I really did not learn much German. 

With French my attempt at conquest has been less disastrous. 
However, it is like owning a violin that I can't play well, and on 
which I am too bashful to practice when anybody is listening 
who might help me to improve. What I want is not help but (I 
blush to say it) to have my French thought to be a marvel. 

In Haiti, in the highland pastures where the quail whistle, black- 
berries plumpen, and pines comb the clouds with their shaggy 


boughs, I have lain on the grass and grown downright chatty with 
the mountain innocents. Jolting with bus passengers on their way 
to a funeral in the Martinique hinterland my tongue was loosened, 
or with the St. Barts Normans as I shall tell you later. The chil- 
dren were best of all on any French-speaking island. For with 
these dear friends it was I who was the bilingual wizard: in a 
group if I am not to achieve a position of some brilliance I don't 
say much. No, where my traveling companions know any Eng- 
lish, that is the language we employ. The blunders I leave to these 
conceited smarty-pants. If they are so clever, let them do the 

My wooing of Spanish has been both more recent and more 
dismal. Ah me! "the language of heaven," Charles V called it; 
he was a politic Hapsburg. In Puerto Rico I bought El Mundo 
every day from some chanting newsboy and usually could tell 
well enough whether I was reading about a Rotary luncheon or 
the wars in Europe. But there is no greater difference between 
such a luncheon and such wars than lies between reading a lan- 
guage and using it. That the eye is at home by no means insures 
that the ear and tongue are likewise.. 

Grumpily hunched up in some island caf6 with French or 
Spanish being shot off about me like irritating firecrackers, I have 
given over yearning for a miracle of understanding and fallen to 
dreaming of a language really easy to learn. Why put up with 
the hard ones now current? 

Primitive tongues, I'm told, such as that still spoken by our 
accomplished neighbors, the Eskimos, are the most complex. 
The classic tongues that evolved from them, though some im- 
provement over Eskimo, were more needlessly elaborate than 
those, called "modern," that were evolved in turn during the 
Dark Ages. If evolution is to be true to itself, then we ought still 
to be on the road toward increased simplicity like the dogs in 


Martin Armstrong's fable whose goal was to compress language 
into the two all-expressive vocables bow and wow. 

Yes, the latest linguistic invention to be put to wide use is 
English, and though here was a step in the right direction, let 
me remind you that its date was not recent. Chaucer by writing 
a durable masterpiece in the new medium settled its design over 
a century before Columbus's voyage. 

Unfortunately, printing was invented soon after: English was 
hardened into type before it had had time to achieve homoge- 
neous character. To this day it is a sort of succotash, Teutonic 
beans and Latin corn. But its grammar, thank heaven, by Chaucer's 
time and long before Caxton's had won a simplicity unknown in 
its parent languages, as its French parent was simpler than the Latin 

In the days of its formation it had to be easy. It was the pidgin 
talk of the sluts and bumpkins who needed to make contact 
somehow with their Norman overlords. But after it had grown 
to be more than a makeshift for simple-wits and even after it had 
been dignified by Chaucer's masterpiece, it was ignored by the 
schools for three hundred years. The professors' task was to police 
the classics. Poor Shakespeare! he had no English dictionary nor 
thesaurus to turn to and only one tentative and unreverenced 
grammar book. Blundering along, he wrote "those springs, on 
chaliced flowers that lies," without causing the lifting of one 
Oxford eyebrow. 

While I listened to the Papiamento sermon in Curasao that All 
Saints' Day I couldn't understand it, let me admit my mind 


wandered off into the reflection that the local blacks, like the 
Anglo-Saxons of Norman England, had done the job of develop- 
ing a pidgin talk here in modern times. When Sir John Hawkins, 
in Queen Elizabeth's good ship the Jesus of Lilbeck, put in at this 
port with a cargo of Negroes in 1565, the slave trade was already 
an old thing to be sure. But it was in the seventeenth and eight- 
eenth centuries that the islands were given their hencef orth-to-be- 
black population in incessant traffic from Africa: Ibos, Congos, 
Mandingos, and slaves of a dozen other tribes. These newcomers 
spoke languages related in construction but "mutually unintel- 
ligible," which hindrance to communication the slaveholders ten- 
derly preserved: the more unable the slaves were to understand 
each other, the less able they were to hatch a large-scale revolt. 

But the day came when it was no longer practicable to segre- 
gate such groups. When the Ibos began to intermingle with the 
Mandingos, whose language prevailed? Neithers. Both used the 
language of their masters, of which everybody laborers and 
especially house servants had had to learn something. It was 
English of a kind in Jamaica, for example; French of a kind in 
Haiti; and a kind of Spanish in Curasao, which island, though 
Dutch, was the slave mart for the Spanish Main. But it was "bad 
Spanish" or "bad French," as English was "bad French" in the 
twelfth century. 

In fact it was baby talk, to use a homely term. The first pre- 
occupation was to acquire a vocabulary, as a baby's is; grammar, 
when enough words had been learned to link into sentences, was 
allowed to follow simple and regular patterns. For the distinguish- 
ing badge of good baby talk is its consistency: having learned to 
say, "I opened the door," a baby, if he has normal gumption, will 
also say, "I shutted the door." Such an error we grownups find 
laughable, but it is an inane opinion. The mistake made proves that 
the baby is not merely memorizing like a parrot but reasoning like 
a philosopher. 


Thus, consistency is one of the merits of Papiamento and the 
other Creole tongues. In the West Indies of 1700, say, the midday 
of slavery, there were twelve Negroes for every white man the 
white man's "good" English or "good" French never quite man- 
aged to prevail.* It was like a household of twenty-four babies 
and only the usual two parents: thanks to mere force of numbers 
the babies derived most of their speech habits from one another, 
and thus baby talk became the standard. 

Creole English is still dismissed as "bad English," though I 
imagine a patient study of it would prove it as much simpler than 
"good" English, as English is simpler than its forbears. It is a 
language without honor. The scholars of the British West Indies 
focus their spectacles on other things, on tracing the policies of 
dim ex-governors, or refighting white-man naval battles that have 
been fought over and over again akeady. The affairs of the huge 
majority of the population, that is, the black portion, get scant 

However, folk tales in dialect are in print, and collections of 
negro proverbs, and very odd the English in them looks. Pig ax 
him mumma say, <wha mek him mout long so? runs a Jamaican 
fable; Him say, no mine, me pickney; dot someting mek fe me 
long so, mek fe you long so too. The old sow (to translate) tells 
her inquisitive piglet that what has made her mouth so long, one 
day will lengthen his: youth, appalled by the deformities of age, 
receives no comfort from the elder generation. 

Even so short a sample of Creole English puts the amateur 
philologist in me in a twitter. I note the Negro tendency to sup- 
press the letters r and th\ the multiple duty done by a few pro- 
nouns him does for "his," "her," and "she," as in Papiamento the 
ultra-streamlined pronoun e serves for "he," "him," "she," "her," 
and "it" and then with happy gaze I examine the invariability 

*In Cuba and Puerto Rico, predominantly white then as now, and to a lesser 
degree in mulatto Santo Domingo, "good" Spanish of course survived. 


of the verb mek, "to make." Mek it is in the present tense where 
we should say "makes"; mek in the past where we should say 
"made"; and in the future, where we should say "will make," it 
is mek again, as neat as a button.* Oh! the luxury of it! 

In the French islands, and in places once French, such as Haiti, 
St. Lucia, or the Apperly brothers' Dominica, Creole French is 
the people's language. Unlike Creole English, it is taken seriously. 
Not only have its proverbs and country songs been collected, but 
philologists have wrinkled their foreheads studying its structure, 
and poets of the high-brow school have woven verses in it. Its tnfs 
raccourcis and langueurs imagees are the admiration of Paris 
esthetes; and the disarming directness of a language that trans- 
lates "jockstrap" as djac-papa, and "brassiere" as djac-mamm, 
ruffles the august whiskers of the Academy in a gale of young- 
hearted laughter. 

However, it is not properly a written language. The poets and 
scholars who use or study it, transcribe it in as many various spell- 
ings, and very formidable some of their systems are. But the 
people who habitually speak Creole do not write it; no standard 
orthography has been hammered out by the multitude. If you 
want to know its character, you still must go to the islands and 
listen. Faut ous dormir cdte Jean pour connain ronfier Jean, as 
the Haitians say: "You have to sleep with Jack to appreciate his 


If you want to appreciate Papiamento, on the other hand, you 
can exchange letters with a friend in Curagao, or subscribe for 
La Cruz, prijs: cinco florin pa anja paga padlanti.^ This paper 
will perhaps not have much world news in it, but it displays in 
humdrum print, week by week, a Spanish that would make old 
Charles V drop back in astonishment. 

New World Spanish, of course, nowhere is given the standard 
Castilian pronunciation; that of Santo Domingo, my linguist uncle 

""Auxiliaries for expressing time are, however, a feature of the Creole tongues* 
Will has been omitted here because of the sententious fable style. 
tThis looks to me like, "Price: five florins per year, paid m advance." 


tells me, differs most from the classic model. But as written Span- 
ish it is very much all cut from the same piece of cloth that is, 
except Papiamento. For Papiamento is the Creole Spanish in- 
vented by the old slaves of Curaao for their own use; and while 
they were at their job of simplification they did not hesitate to 
weave in ragtags of the Dutch vocabulary, and French, and Portu- 
guese, and English, as these came to hand. 

The chief elements of Papiamento are Spanish, however, with 
the Dutch second in importance. It is a natural combination, since 
this mart of the Spanish Main has been so long held by the Nether- 
landers. In more than language, in fact, Curaao shows its double 

When the boys gather at night on the benches of Brionplein 
to play their cuatros and guitars and tip back their hats when the 
girls stroll by, the waltz songs they sing are Spanish, but Dutch 
too by an unexpected blending. It is as if Spanish music were 
being played by a German band: the rhythms become more banal, 
the tunes more buxom. And very sweet they are: the lights 
twinkle on the harbor waters where Queen Emma Bridge, on its 
pontoons, rides tranquilly; the policeman, with the orange of 
Orange-Nassau at his collar and sleeve cuffs, stands in the bridge- 
head limelight like a band leader directing traffic; while the music, 
every note comfortably familiar though the tunes may be new, 
winds its way skyward with the % Spanish rustle of stringed instru- 

Curasao's architecture is Dutch more singleheartedly. The yel- 
low gables with their white-painted scrolls and baroque parapets 
that hang mirrored in the calm-flowing Rif Water, the steep tile 
roofs and chunky dormers, are straight from Delft or Dordrecht 
despite the rainless, never wintry skies that burn above them. 

Marketing is done Dutch style from sloops tied to the quays 
that lead in to Waaigat yacht basin; but it is not mevrouw in a 
white cap who does the buying, it is senora in a black mantilla. 


The huckster-sailors with whom she haggles are not Dutchmen 
either; above their unshaven Venezolano faces the brims of their 
sombreros swoop in fine bandit curves; they have sailed over 
from the less desert mainland with their fruit-stall and green- 
grocer cargoes. Very animated is the discussion of the price of 
tomati, omac&ti) and bananas, as the masts lazily nod and the green 
water gurgles between quay masonry and hull. 

But if Papiamento is a language so standard and habitual in 
Cura?ao that not only is it used in the market place, but in the 
cathedral pulpit, in printed newspapers, and official traffic signs, 
it is lucky enough, as English was in Shakespeare's day, yet to be 
unpoliced by pedants. Likewise Creole French, though it is ad- 
mired by the knowing, and Creole English, though its proverbs 
have been collected, are free too of the textbook blight* They 
have still the freshness of a bird's song or a green lizard's twitter. 

Whether Papiamento or some other actually "modern'' lan- 
guage is the speech of the future I cannot say, nor whether any 
of our current school of dictators could be persuaded to force its 
blessings on a reluctant world. Napoleon, with the momentum of 
the French Revolution behind him, outlawed the dear old irra- 
tional coinage and weights and measures of his country, and gave 
most of Europe a taste of that Utopian professors' dream, the 
decimal-and-metric system. With all the governmental bossing we 
have now, is there no agency to cow us into trying Esperanto? 

No, it will have to be the language itself, I fear, that overmasters 


us with its obvious goodness. Meanwhile, here lies Curagao, swim- 
ming in sunshine, for a sort of laboratory in which such a modern 
tongue is being tested and tinkered with daily for us, in a free, 
popular, and large-scale experiment. 

There may be some who will grumble to learn that this great 
intellectual work is being done by niggers. However, and though 
we whites show to advantage usually in some other respects, no 
less tart a critic of them than Hans Coudenhove (a German) has 
declared that "Negroes are the greatest linguists on earth." The 
secret is that language is primarily vocal, and these island blacks, 
even though they can write it, do not polish their Papiamento in 
that secondary form. Print records the progress of their experi- 
ment year by year and there its function ends. 

As a writer I should shun no serpent more fearfully than this 
exalting of the spoken over the written word. Nor should the 
tombstone man breathe anything to belittle inscriptions carved 
in everlasting granite. But if language, for me, were as purely a 
vocal thing as it is for these West Indians, instead of print and 
epitaphs, I might be as ready a linguist as one of them. In their 
islands, my predicament was like that of the white American 
officers who commanded Negro troops in France during the first 
World War: while their privates caught a knowledge of French 
from mid-air, as if it were a baseball, they dug fruitlessly for it in 
French Made Easy. 

Yes, that too intelligent process of hearing with the eyes is only 
too tediously familiar. The foreign words that hurtle upon me in 
real life, to be accepted by my brain must register first in writing, 
as if I were a hotel Book before me I learned my French, and 
book-learned shall I die. Meanwhile your poor laborer in Tortola 
or Carriacou turns lightly from English to Spanish to Creole 
French: a voyage in a sloop has been his education, or a year in 
Venezuela. Learning a language with his ears has cut the difficulty 
in half. 


Thus, if language at bottom is these peasants' talking and hear- 
ing, rather than our (nevertheless delightful) reading and writing, 
perhaps they are better equipped to build the language of the 
new day than we. While making it simple, they very likely will 
know also how to make it popular. Thus far the paper languages 
have not shown much vitality outside the libraries in which they 
were born: there is nothing harder than to induce the world to 
be merely rational, as the professors who invented Esperanto long- 
since despairingly admitted. We want the human touch. 

Since life on my own island will follow the ideal pattern, the 
most spritely of current languages will be current there. I shall 
go on reading dear old English, even if it is succotash, and writing 
it too no doubt. But a more perfect enterprise also will be afoot. 
Very promptly I shall establish a Chair of Papiamento. 

Already this feature of the island's educational system has been 
planned; I see it now, a flat rock in the middle of a stream. Better, 
I feel its deep moss yield beneath me. All around, lying on their 
bellies with the water pouring over them, or bouncing on the low 
boughs of a mango tree, are my teachers, the island children. 

There is plenty of laughter at my bungling first efforts to be 
talkative; but one small schoolmarm, when I am genuinely stuck, 
is sure to climb up on the rock beside me, her hair drawn into 
tight knots on her solemn head, and her brown skin glistening 
with water drops. 

What she whispers in my ear are lessons never forgot. And 
after class, with mind still frolicsome, I hope to pick up the lingo 
of the birds and lizards; silence too, I must not omit to cultivate. 
The brook fish will be there to help me in that final enterprise, 
poised motionless in the shadow of the rock. 


Chapter VI. 


anxiety on the part of her one passenger, the Alice Mable worked 
her way between the breakers on Steventon bar and was at sea 

The sun rose, the clouds turned salmon color with a wisp of 
rainbow risen up among them, the billows toppled, and Cook, 
hovering near, was obviously obsessed with thoughts of breakfast. 

"Can't set the table, eh, Cook?" said the captain. 

"No, sir," said Cook, glad to be noticed. "Too rough." 

"Well, bring your things back here," said the captain. "Put 
the dishes in a pan, and put the pan on the floor as low as you can 
get it, and let the chief know that breakfast is ready." 

The ham and hominy soon appeared, the coffee cups, the 
big black pot and the little strainer; the chief, too, with his hair 
brushed down in morning neatness. And while the world dropped 
from under us, or boosted us sky-high, or reeled dizzily about 
our heads, the captain on one knee said grace and we ate. 

Grace was the regular .thing on that Bahamian mail boat. 
Usually the captain said it, but sometimes he would ask the chief, 
a young man, to bless the table. They both know how two 
Abac6 men, from Hope Town, which is a seafaring and God- 
fearing place. Thus, though the Alice Mable had neither style, 
comfort, nor speed, she could not be said to be graceless. One 
of the things I liked best about her (and before the trip was 


done I was truly attached to her) was this homelike grace saying 

But there are graces and graces. On the return voyage we h .1 
two Anglican priests aboard, going to Nassau synod: they said 
it for us, crossing themselves, and rattling off the formula with 
practiced dispatch. It was very nice to have the hominy blessed 
by professionals, I suppose, but the Lord (if He is anything like 
me) must have wished with a sigh for something fresher. The 
captain's grace was what I liked; it gave the food more sweetness 
and in an unexpected way linked up the humdrum mail trip of 
the Alice Mable with the first marine doings in the Bahamas. 

Columbus was a prayerful man though only an amateur of- 
ficially. On his second voyage he had the Benedictine, Father 
Buyl, to give professional weight to the devotions; but on the 
first when God's help must have been more passionately wanted 
it was mariners' prayers that were sung night and morning. When 
from the New World's first blue anchorages the Salve Regina 
joyfully was raised, plain sailors were the "exiled children of 
Eve" who raised it: for all the twang of their rough husky voices, 
the islanders listening on the shore thought they heard music 
made by men from heaven. 

Where the anchorages were, that idyllic first week in the 
Bahamas, is not exactly known, at least not by me. The settled 
opinion is, however, that Columbus's landfall was San Salvador, 
the outmost though not the eastmost of the islands. From that 
first landing place he departed southward in a zigzag course that 
led away through the Crooked Island Passage. 

His journal of these zigzags, hurrying in excitement from island 
to island, is not easy to follow on a chart; but Captain Becher of 
the Royal Navy, puzzling over the problem three centuries and 
a half later, decided that one zig took him into Exuma Sound* At 
Exuma Harbor, it was, Becher decided, that the fleet first took 
on water in quantity after the long voyage the islanders, naked 
and good-natured, helping to roll the barrels* 

should like to think this a true guess, though more recent 

ographers do not cheer me much in the enterprise. With its 
cays, white bluff, and wind-bent trees, it looks a fit setting for 
history. Here too, to come to our own unmomentous story, the 
Alice Mable dropped her anchor, the townspeople proved 
friendly, and sailors' grace ushered in the supper. 

True enough, I also saw Long Island, where it is sure Columbus 
touched. Our outmost stopping place was Simms, on that island, 
a country road at the plain's sea edge, with a few hip-roofed 
houses and solemn shut-up churches scattered along it, and trees 
and cornfields planted in the porous rock. With its long shore, 
endless road, and distant long low hills, it seemed not the scene 
of history but of a quiescent datelessness. 

Its role, in fact, as the captain remarked while we were bring- 
ing in the mail, is astronomical rather than earthly. It lies precisely 
on the Tropic: when the Sun comes to Simms and can look down 
Mrs. Simms's well he turns south again and goes back to the 

We too turned back there, with the settlement's two weeks' 
accumulation of mail aboard. The wind and the High Church 
clerics were with us now, we came back to Nassau flying. But 
the struggling journey out suited me better. It had more of the 
sea and the islands in it, thanks to its day difficulties, peaceful 
night anchorages, and its slowness. 

As far as Steventon I had had a fellow passenger. He was a 
Simms of Simms, a mechanic going back to that place from Nassau 
to make a proposal of marriage to his girl. 

Simms was a real Conch or islander, who didn't feel comfortable 
with his shoes laced. His broad silver-palm hat turned up in 


front when he looked into the wind, and when he looked off to 
sea a slow satisfaction came into his face because boats and blue 
brine had been so much a part of his life from its beginning. But 
his opinion of the Alice Mable will not bear repeating here. In 
the billows of Exuma Sound she made two miles an hour, which 
was worse than standing still to a man with a proposal pent up 
in his bosom. 

True, the delay was of some use to him. He gargled or sucked 
lozenges to sweeten his voice. Thanks to a current fit of hoarse- 
ness his most frivolous remark sounded like the croak of an 
oracle at the bottom of a cave, and he felt this should be cured 
for the good of the business in hand. 

But at Steventon his patience blew up. Spitting out a curse 
together with the last lozenge, he took his bicycle ashore and 
rode over hill and dale to our next stop to get the Old Nick out 
of his legs. It was night, but moonlight, and he reached George 
Town sixteen hours before we did, in spite of the gates to open 
and cows to shy rocks at that cumbered the limestone road. 

His hoarseness was no better when we met again, but he was 
improved in meekness. Besides, he had been given a bag of fine 
tomatoes by a farmer, and another of bananas, which cheered 
him. I, too, in George Town, was befriended by a lively colored 
man who loaded a small boy with okra, guavas, papayas, and 
green lettuce, and sent him with the stranger to the wharf. The 
captain had picked up two loaves of bread, fresh-baked by the 
constable's wife. We dined well at anchor that night; there was 
something besides hominy to say grace over. 

And afterward, when the moon was up again, hustling through 
the whiffy white clouds that drove across the sky, and the glassy 
water rustled under our black hull, Simms soothed his throat 
with tangerine juice, sugar, and rum, in which medication the 
chief and I willingly shared. The captain, a teetotaler, sat with 
us, smoking a cigar, spinning yarns of hurricanes-*- the tough Alice 


Mable had weathered several and cracking Bible jokes. Though 
it was an agony to his gullet, these jests set Simms to laughing. 
"Cap'n Carey," he would wheeze, kicking his heels joyfully 
against the wheelbox, "you're the jokiest old fellow Tse knowed in 
all my days!" 

In fact we were much at home there, anchored out of the 
wind. My companions, all Conchs of old families, knew these cays 
and bright blue channels like the pockets of a long-worn pair 
of pants. Ashore in the settlements they greeted everybody, black 
and white. Simms was always hailing relatives. When the captain 
set up his parasol on wharf or beach to distribute parcels, it was 
like the home-coming of a benign potentate. 

In Exuma Harbor I too had a homelike feeling, stranger though 
I was. Simms's tangerine toddy was responsible in part, perhaps, 
but more lasting in its comfort was the knowledge that I had 
well-wishers ashore. Recollection rose in my brain of my colored 
benefactor's garden, and of his whitewashed house, set in a pink 
ring of shells. To put me at ease, while he went off for the papayas, 
his sister who had lived in the lighthouse on Cay Lobos told me 
of happenings in that still less visited place: how her small niece 
and nephew wheeled their red toy wheelbarrows on the sand, 
and "The music on the radio so sweet, very oftentimes we all 
get to dancin'." From her report of it, the remote island life could 
very well be merry, I judged. But she was a merry girl herself, 
with a clear tuneful voice; the grace of her gestures and the bright 
way her pigtails wagged made everything she said seem pretty. 

But old Columbus, anchored off that shore with his sailors fast 
asleep around him after their prayers, must have peered out at 
its lightlessness with troubled eyes. He had found the Bahamas 
beautiful to be sure. Almost any land would have looked good 
after the anxieties of the voyage. Moreover, he was a Mediter- 
ranean, used to the rocky, not really verdant shores of the classic 
sea. If the English sailor or Irishman in his crews had written 



the journal, its entries might not have given these limestone cays 
the name of so green a paradise: to the Northerner their greenery 
is olive and silver for the most part. The parrots and flamingos, 
however, were the admiration of all. The people, the brown 
islanders, for innocence, gentleness, and good nature, were beyond 


But he had embarked not to find Arcady, but the Orient. He 
had a letter to deliver to the Great Khan! Besides, he was man 
of the world enough to know that descriptions of a bird life and 
society more charming than its own would not satisfy Spain. The 
riches of the heathen were what he had come for, to reward his 
backers, and (his own share, this was to be) to finance a new 
Crusade to deliver Jerusalem from the Turks. He had spent the 
best years of his life plaguing the courts of Europe to send him 
on this voyage; now here he was with gout beginning to cripple 
his joints, and found the people naked. They swam to the ships 
with balls of cotton to barter; it was their sole commodity. How 
many such balls would it take to rescue the Holy City? 

Columbus wasted no ink on the foolish computation, but with 
morning sang morning prayers with his crews and sailed away 
for Cuba, of which island he had begun to hear. It was the last 
the Bahamas saw of their first, greatest, and not least Christian 

Navigation, however, is the Bahamas' chief art to this day. 
Their vast web of reefy waters has been sailed by Christians of 


various kinds ever since the discovery, including both pirates 
and good souls like Captain Carey. 

The pirates' Christianity, to be sure, tended somewhat away 
from their faith's basic precepts. But habits of piety did persist in 
many of their lives, or even quite unmistakable religious glimmers. 
That any of them said grace habitually over their stolen pork I 
am not ready now to prove, but it is a probability. These hard 
men had their decorums. 

Ned Low, for one, and the meanest of the lot, was a strict 
Sabbatarian. His London childhood had been passed in wig 
snatching: he rode in a lidded basket on his brother's back, and 
into the basket he would twitch a good wig when it came within 
his reach. From wig snatching to piracy was a natural step; but no 
matter which he was doing he kept the Sabbath, and his ships' 
crews did likewise, playing selected games and "reading good 

Another Sabbath keeper was the magnificent Captain Roberts. 
Wearing a cross of diamonds on his bosom and drinking no liquor 
stronger than tea, he devastated Barbados's and Jamaica's shipping. 
Gambling, brawls, and women aboard, alike were prohibited by 
this moral man; on Sundays "the music" could not touch their 
instruments. "And may the Lord prosper your handy-works!" he 
exclaimed earnestly, after instructing some disciples in the fine 
points of the profession. 

On the vessels captained by Misson and Caraccioli, a code pre- 
vailed that would do credit to a Baptist Home. Swearing was an 
intolerable offense; lectures on ethics and the good life were a 
part of daily routine. Even the terrible Morgan sailed in a ship 
called the Good Samaritan. And who can forget the piety of 
Captain Daniel, who kidnapped the priest of the Saintes to say 
Mass on his vessel, and shot one of his own men during the Eleva- 
tion because he had omitted to kneel? The service which had 
opened with a salvo of gunfire ended with the splash of the dead 


body in the sea. It was an occasion that must have made the 
good priest sweat. 

My friend Father Marcian agreed in the surmise. New in the 
tropics, he was finding perspiration only too automatic. For the 
Benedictines of the Bahamas, these days Buyl's more evangelical 
successors come from my own chilblainy Minnesota. Years ago, 
the tale is, there was a shipwreck on a Bahamian reef, on which 
occasion with impetuous spirit down knelt a monk aboard, and 
vowed that his abbey would take the Church's affairs in these 
islands in its care if all were saved. All were, miraculously. Thus, 
and to their great surprise, the Fathers of my own countryside 
found themselves reestablishing Catholicism where Columbus 
had devoutly planted his green cross on the earliest day of New 
World annals. Before setting off on the perspirational venture, 
the first of the new missionaries read his first Mass in Cold 
Spring, my own village, and Father Marcian had done the same. 

"This business has its funny side!" he crowed, and told how a 
black Andros congregation, blessed with a box of donated cloth- 
ing, had appeared at church next Sunday, every man jack and 
woman jill in a lace-edged corset. That was what the Lord had 
sent, with a New York mission society as His intermediary. It 
made Father Marcian chuckle. 

Divine jokes, however, were not the whole of the story; he had 
been more than a mite homesick, I suspect. Cold Spring was 
what he craved to talk about on our afternoon's drive out of 
Nassau. The sea beneath Clifton Bluff shone like a spread-out 
gorgeous peacock's tail what a pulpit from which to preach the 
radiant Gospel! Home gossip, however, I was abundantly able 
to provide. We gave over talking of mission mishaps and the 
buccaneers' piety and settled gratefully on Main Street* 

But the buccaneering itself that had preyed on the Spanish 
treasure fleets of the seventeenth century had been a pious enter- 
prise in a sense. It was the last long unofficial battle of the old 


Wars of Religion. As a rule, the buccaneers were British, Dutch, 
or Huguenot. "The Lutherans," they were called in Spain, where 
news of their impudent successes made many a grandee tear his 

Tortuga, "the Turtle," was the chief center from which these 
becutlassed zealots sailed to give the Papists some intercourse with 
virtue an island oil Haiti's rich north coast. After I had left 
Nassau I came by Tortuga and saw its dark silhouette, the wind 
flapping my pajamas in the middle of the night. From the ship's 
galley came a whiff of bread fresh from the oven; on shore, at 
the same instant, one feeble light blinked awake. Good heavens! 
and what tumults of torch-lit feasting the island had seen in its 
lurid prime! and how my bare feet would have arched in anxiety, 
then, on the lonely deck at so careless an approach to the den 
of vengeance! 

Paralysis had seized on Spanish shipping, sure enough, thanks 
to Tortuga's Lutherans. The fleets dreaded to move. But when 
wealth piled up in the ports of Mexico and the Spanish Main, 
the buccaneers turned filibuster, amphibious like our Marines, and 
took fortresses and cities, ravaging their warehouses and treas- 
uries. And their churches; they never omitted to tweak the Pope's 
nose when they came across a richly furnished altar. As good 
Protestants they knew both the sinfulness of silver images and 
their value when melted down. 

But the simplicity of this Protestant-Catholic contest, never 
perfect, grew more and more obscure. Could a just God intend 
profits like these to be reserved for Lutherans? When Michel- 
the-Basque sacked Maracaibo in the orthodox days of Louis XIV 
and made off with the altar vessels, he assured the priests and nuns 
that "this part of the booty would serve for the building of a 
splendid church at Turtle Island, to Our Lady of Victories." He 
spoke as one Catholic to another, please note; Tortuga was blessed 


now with a return to the Roman faith. It was good news of a 
kind for his distracted victims. 

When such confusion of buccaneering aims came in, the classic 
age was over. Mere sea robbery was on the way. The last chapter 
came when the Spanish colonials themselves turned pirate, and 
dodged about Cuban waters on mean and niggling forays. 

Meanwhile the Bahamas shared in the excitement in all its 
phases. Flanking the Straits of Florida and the Windward Passage, 
their maze of channels, cays, and reefs was as if made for a sea 
robber's resort. 

New Providence was the rendezvous. In Nassau those bad 
female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read brazened the wharves, 
and Teach lurched and leered, twisting the braids of his blue- 
black whiskers between fingers hardly less serpentine. The place 
was a scandal. Worse, it became a bother* Its scallawag citizens 
upset British trade with the more productive colonies. 

For this reason, in 1718, Woodes Rogers was sent out as gov- 
ernor. The pirates knew their man, he had been a buccaneer 
himself. Two hundred of them obsequiously received his pardon, 
but enough skulkers were hung to give discipline to the new 
regime. Eight in one day were strung up, chanting psalms while 
waiting for the hangman. 

Wrecking now was turned to, to give island talents scope for 
their activity. When some vessel or other was cast on the reefs by 
act of God, the Bahamians piled into their sloops and went out 
to salvage her cargo. 

Questioning acts of God is an impiety, but Lloyd's and the 
Philadelphia lawyers soon were guilty of just this naughty prac- 
tice. Were the Bahamas accursed? Why was their navigation so 


fatal to rotten but well-insured old vessels? The more the evidence 
was studied, the more likely it appeared that some of these acts 
of God had been engineered by islanders made in His image. 
Thus, as the mother country had outlawed piracy she now built 
lighthouses and ruined wrecking. 

But the darkness that had ceased to serve as the excuse for such 
fair-weather disasters, regained its value during the twin eras of 
blockade-running and rumrunning. The dark of the moon found 
the seas liveliest in Civil War and Prohibition times, and cash 
freest in happy Nassau. Mainland abnormalities are always that 
smart community's bonanzas. 

The Banshee ', first steel ship to cross the ocean, was built to run 
the Confederate ports' blockade. She made only eight trips be- 
tween Nassau and the seaboard before being captured, but even 
so her owners realized 700 per cent on their investment. Nor 
were they pocketing undue profits: a plain seaman in those 
champagne cocktail days earned $250 or more per trip. Such 
was the price the South had to pay her friends for uniform but- 
tons or pistols trans-shipped from Boston hid in lard. 

. Rumrunning brought an even brighter era: it lasted longer. 
During the first five years of Prohibition, island imports of wines 
and spirits multiplied twenty-five times. It is not officially known 
what happened to this flood, but in the breezy cupola of Nassau's 
library when I thumbed through the newspapers of the time I 
found hints to help me trace its movement. Not in the news, noth- 
ing so tactless; instead, from some dignified "ad" out would pop 
the footnote, "We also have a well-stocked warehouse at West 
End, Grand Bahama." West End is a port you may not have 
heard of. Ordinarily its importance is nil. But in rumrunning days 
a thousand vessels a year cleared at West End: it was the port 
handiest to the mainland. 

The actual rumrunners, as it happens, were not Bahamians. The 
heirs to the swashbuckling tradition now took the profits with- 
out the risks. Their schooners plied no farther than to West End 


or served as floating depots from which the crude bootleggers 
could pick up their goods. It was the refined climax to a long his- 
tory of sea daring. 

Did any of those skippers, I wonder, call down God's blessing 
on the hominy while ferrying Gilbey's gin to the dark meeting 
place? Very likely so, it was a routine errand. It would seem, 
however, as if God might find the sentiment poor and wish that 
the prayers were torn more heartily from more abandoned sinners. 

But God's inscrutability, as Fm sure you will agree, is beyond 
my scrutiny. I don't know which kind of sinner He is happier 
to hear from, legal bootlegger or rum-soaked pirate. Perhaps He 
prefers the bread-and-butter monotony of prayer from such 
faithful souls as Columbus or the Alice Mable^s captain; or the sur- 
prise vows that mushroom abruptly from the depths of some 
Benedictine's shipwreck-quickened soul. Perhaps Simms's curse, 
heartfelt and lozenge flavored, tickled the Divine Majesty, or the 
rattlety-bang grace said by our two High Church clerics. 

This brings me to a thought, to wit, that a military man at a 
banquet is not expected to do the manual of arms before he eats, 
nor is a banker at a luncheon reverently asked to make a loan. But 
if there is a clergyman at table, be it on land or sea, it is thought 
necessary to impose professional duties on the fellow. Prayer is 
forced on him as it was on the sweating priest of the Saintes it 
is Captain Daniel's Mass again, minus the gunfire and the pic- 
turesqueness. No, when the clergy dines with me on my own 
green isle, another custom shall prevail. A sung blessing with 
voices joined will be, I think, the ticket. 

But stop! now I perceive a beauty in the grace gabbled by our 
Anglicans its resignation. Like me, they'd have preferred the 
fresher event of course. I can picture them now with English 
faces de-stiffened by surprise, kneeling on the deck that wind- 
tossed morning, listening to the Captain's homely phrases. And I 
can hear them cry "Amen!" too, as the ship lifts on a high wave. 



Chapter VII. 


are edified by virtue, and in taverns are horrified by vice. Angels 
move at their elbows. But there are others, by devils guided, who 
do just the opposite: in church, with wrinkling nose they smell 
the worm's sawdust excrement, whereas in taverns they see love- 
liness beam about them from the hardest visages. Of the two, 
the latter group is the more smug one to my notion it preens 
itself so on sensing what lies beneath the skin of things. 

In addition there is a small group that smells the worm in either 
place small, because its members frequently throw themselves 
off bridges. Last of all comes the Sunshine Club to which band 
I belong. We are always being edified, whether it is in church or 
rumshop, and so give neither angels nor devils any lasting satis- 

In general, however, going to church is not thought much 
fun. When Sunday comes, a nap on the sun porch appeals to us 
as more likely to be stimulating. But very often, when I do go, 
some unpretentious preacher laboring among his platitudes will 
illumine me with a new flash of truth. The struggle to sing the 
bass part in even a not-good hymn is exercise of a worthy kind. 
And, very fruitful for the traveler, the business of putting on 


best clothes and coming in tune with Higher Things in public 
gives him a ready means of joining the life of the places he visits. 

In Spain, tourists swarm to bullfights to feel the vitality of the 
Spanish people about them, or in Germany they haunt beer gardens 
with a like educational end in view. But in the Spanish or German 
churches these same citizens who were bellowing awhile back 
for blood or beer are "themselves" with equal naturalness. Nor 
is the quiet phase any the less worth observation. I never learned 
so much so fast about the Gallic spirit as at Quaker meeting, once, 
in Paris. 

But attending church to snoop is neither fruitful nor polite. 
The Holy Rollers do not find me sniggering in a back row: it 
would be like going to a bridge club uninvited or to a bullfight 
without some taste for gore. No, it is necessary to be inconspicu- 
ous and to be touched by the truth of people's enthusiasms, at 
least a litde, before their behavior has much meaning to observe. 

Its church gives Calabash Bay a special tone but I did not 
know this when I was taken by the looks of the place. I saw it 
first as I did Gouyave, from the sea in passing, and came back to 
try its human quality. 

People complain, sometimes, that the West Indies are all alike, 
as if the Shakespearean flavor of all of Shakespeare's plays were a 
point against them. They make a harmonious family, but different 
parts of even one play or island can show striking contrasts. The 
Jamaican north coast, for example, is one long bower: in St. Ann's, 
where Columbus on his last voyage lay bedridden when his rot- 
ting ships could explore no farther, the coconut trees lean out in 


endless groves, and irrepressible waterfalls pour out from higher 
woodlands. Pedro, however, a south-coast district of the same 
island, with Calabash Bay one of its fishing villages, tends toward 
the arid, a sad, open, savanna country. 

Behind Pedro the long ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains 
steeps in the sun, a giant sawhorse with dusty patchwork quilt 
of fields thrown over it. No St. Ann's sinuous coconut trees line 
the grassgrown dunes by the shore; the trees that punctuate the 
district are thatch palms stiff as brushes, tough lignum vitaes with 
blue stars sown over their dense lumps of foliage, and calabash 
trees with fruit swung ponderously at the tips of knob-knuckled 
wandy boughs. "Cut me a calabash switch! " command irate Pedro 
fathers, which sets the boys to blubbering that they never will 
sin again. 

Or Great Pedro Bluff, there, jutting roughly into the blue 
Caribbean, is a scratch-patch of cactus, thorns, and briars. After 
the spring rains have come down from the hills, such a rush of 
blossoming sweeps through it as only a dry-country wilderness 
can show. Orchids of grape- jelly red hang in sheaves from the 
cactus boles, acacias tumble into a froth of yellow, and the yoke- 
wood, in nooks in the Chinese sculpture of the rock, girlishly 
shakes out its petticoats of pale-pink frilly flowers. 

As for the Pedro people, they were a surprise. 

In Jamaica the pattern of country society is set by the planta- 
tions, usually. At the center of each is a nucleus of white man- 
agement with its servants in a. black ring around it. Around this, 
in hundreds of acres of bush and field, the ex-slave populace lives, 
its labor bought by the management as needed. The land these 
Negroes live on, in villages of paintless shanties, they rent very 
cheaply, and also that worked as provision gardens. When they 
marry, if "good tenants," the white lady sends a cake. Com- 
petent and angelic she descends to lend a hand when the fever 
burns. It is a childlike round for the majority, free of possessions 
and few but delegated responsibilities. As my uncle the philologist 


suggests, Jamaica is what the American South would be if there 
had been no Civil War. 

Pedro, however, conforms to another pattern. As in not our 
South but our Southwest, whose profitless deserts saved it for the 
Indians, drought seems to have saved Pedro for its colored people. 
There is no white landlord in the district to watch the fields crack 
in the too-constant sun. 

But though crops may fail three years in a row, there still is 
enterprise in the place. The land is held in small plots, each with 
its thatched clean cabin of white or pink, around which olean- 
ders blossom. As cheerful as the sight of these dwellings when I 
came riding down among them, was the news that the people 
who lived in them bred some of the island's most mettlesome 
horses, and also its beefiest cattle. A St. Ann's loafer can poke 
twigs in the moist earth and grow a hedge, but the Pedro graziers, 
Abe Lincoln style, split rails and build worm fences. At Calabash 
Bay it seemed an old-time, almost a Bible picture, when the black 
canoes came flying with thek draughts of fish, white sails bent 
energetically to the brine. From beach-top wells of sun-parched 
Palestinian masonry the women watched them come, then strode 
off single file down the sands, calabash jugs balanced on their 

It would be false to say less than that I fell in love with the 
Bay people. They were the lovely kind. How had it happened 
that so many Scotch mariners had been stranded on this coast, 
settled, and left the legacy of Celtic blood? The brown country- 
folk and fishermen, with their blue eyes and taffy-colored wool, 
bore Scotch names proudly, and were no less proud of their 
Scotch code of honesty. They were polite, friendly, and self- 
respecting. It was one of those rare communities in the British 
islands where the lava of white benevolence had not hardened 
down from above, to keep the nonwhites in a proper order.* 

* This is no longer wholly true. The coast is being opened to the tourist trade, 
which means that the. best shore properties are in part now in alien white hands. 


No one happened to die while I was staying at Calabash Bay, 
which was a cause of regret to everybody: a death in Pedro is not 
only the signal for genuine grief but for the district's chief social 
doings. When I heard their wakes described "set-ups," the Bay 
people call them they reminded me of the wags at home whose 
wills request band music at their funerals and direct the pall- 
bearers to pass cigars. 

In the saddened house the elders sit, swapping anecdotes of the 
deceased and singing slow hymns in two-part harmony. Outside, 
the children play Simon-Says-Thumbs-Up in the moonlight, un- 
less they are grown enough to join the young folks in their more 
strenuous revelry. These others the most numerous group by far 
play forfeits, ring games, kissing games, and strap games, in 
which last uproarious favorites you get a cruel licking if you let 
your wits woolgather or your legs rest for an instant. 

Then out comes a guitar. Nicholas will thrum, say, and Cecil 
sing, staring into the instrument and wagging his head in rhythm 
with the long ballads of newspaper love and murder. Or it will 
be a humorous ditty with words in it that set the girls to flying 
to hide their unladylike guffaws. But Cecil or Tom Parchment, 
whose repertory is still more immense, do only the stanzas solo. 
In the choruses everybody joins and with bodies as well as voices. 

Set-up or no, I heard some of Cecil's songs; and Bertha, when 
she made the bed, would repeat them for me until I could put 
the melodies on paper. 

"If they -feel a pain in their head, 
Or a lizard drop on their bed y 
The very first thing you are sure to hear 
They are going to Father Killam from Vere? 

she sang, giving the pillows a practiced wallop. 

Tom Parchment I several times visited in his "Glad Lane 
Navilty Shop." He was an ex-sailor who had been frozen in, in the 
Baltic, once. Once was enough for Tom. With the songs of all 


nations filed away in his head, home he came to Pedro to marry 
a Bay girl and sell kerosene and notions. It was an event so well 
received by the public that the lane he settled on, in a ravine in 
a rocky ridge, was renamed Glad Lane for a celebration. 

As for the Bay churchgoing, Glad Lane and a pasture path 
made my short cut to the meeting house. Settled on a stiff bench, 
I would be given a hymn book by Mrs. Parchment or some other 
one of the ladies. In a square space at the head of the room sat 
the musing Saints; one Sunday a man would preside at their Table, 
the next, a woman. For the religion of these people without a 
landlord is likewise independent of priest or preacher. 

Quaker stillness filled the bare-as-poverty clean room. Every- 
body's clothes were of the freshest. Now and again one of the 
Saints would start a hymn: a few favorite tunes seemed to fit all 
texts. There was no organ. For accompaniment the lambs bleated 
out-of-doors and cows mooed, as if it were Bethlehem and these 
Plymouth Brethren were the shepherds who had been called in to 
be the Lord's first worshipers. 

Simeon Reynolds prayed, as did others of the Saints. Old 
Mr. James rose, or some other, to expound the Scriptures. Salva- 
tion's plan at its simplest was the theme of these remarks invari- 
ably, as if the byways of Christianity could not draw them aside 
from its central wonder. Steeped all their lives in Bible reading, 
the Brethren spoke in the book's phraseology; the old poetry, like 
a lily, opened with fresh beauty in the white still room. 

At length the Saints would partake of their Communion. A 
little loaf of bread would be broken and eaten, the cup would be 
passed. And soon after, in chatty home-going groups, we would 
disperse, I with a tract that had been pressed earnestly in my 

On my first visit I had had a half-crown ready for an offering, 
and thought how big it would look among the widows' mites. 


But the token of vanity was not acceptable. Only the Saints 
were privileged to give, I was told gently. With no minister, 
organist, nor mixed quartet to hire and no Gothic sanctuary with 
a mortgage on it, their church exercises its religion with primi- 
tive plainness. 

Of Calabash Bay I had known nothing before suddenly I went 
there. Port-au-Prince, on the other hand, in which city I heard 
Mass soon after, I knew well enough in books. But the place I 
had read of was as much a discovery as the one unheard-of. 
Nobody, certainly, had prepared me to find the Port-au-Princeton 
architecture Swiss. 

But Swiss it was. From taxicab and then from hotel window 
I gawked out upon cuckoo clocks and chalets. Amid the bursts 
of tropical greenery were mansions in the taste of Godey's Ladies' 
Book, all jig-saw work, half-timber work, broad eaves, and steep- 
roofed towers. But this curious fashion, so long shrugged out of 
existence at home that we must come to Haiti to reappraise its 
merits, mingles its Ladies' Book charm with that of Old Creole 
Days. My window was first-rate for leaning purposes; for though 


there was no unabashed life of the slums to watch from it, the 
mansion next door gave me plenty to admire. 

It was in the Haitian chalet style, tall, elegant, and fantastic. 
Huge mango trees grew beside it in a yard paved in brick-divided 
squares of pebbles. At night I could glimpse a corner of the 
dinner table with its soft lights and goblets, but the children's 
eating porch was more open to my view. Mangoes loosed from 
a high bough by a black maid with well-aimed missiles, I soon 
would see laid in a dish on its green tablecloth. 

The kitchen below, however, with its arched door and big 
tile stove was the room that showed day-round activity. Fasci- 
nated, I would watch the cook dispatch a chicken, singe it with 
a flaming knot of newspaper, and cut it into an earthen pot. By 
and by up would float the Creole savor of it, stewing with 
tomatoes, oil, and garlic. 

There was another servant to mend and iron. She tilted back 
in a straw-bottomed chair and sewed on buttons. Or she would 
sweep up one of the little brown daughters for a crushing hug, or 
sing Au clair de h lune for the three of them while at her ironing. 

Then out would tramp Nurse with soap and towels. Under 
the mango trees was a mossy basin with a tap above it, where 
one by one the little girls roared in anger as their ears were 
looked to. But soon, all suds and with buttocks glistening like 
brown butterscotch drops, they were turned loose to rinse them- 
selves in a splashy frolic. It was not easy to bring this process to 
an end, but when it had been done and the girls' fresh panties had 
been snapped up around their middles, the gardener would call 
the poodle and soap and rinse her too. He was a peaceable old 
codger, who had enjoyed the tableau as much as I had. 

Soon after, while the sun set like an apple of fire on the gold 
platter of the Gulf of Leogane, these Old Creole Days children 
would gather on the porch for supper; the governess would give 
one a push and anotjjdr a pull, and presently, grace said, they 


would cross themselves like birds folding their wings and settle 
down to eat. 

Or sunset time, if I were in the streets, was like that happy 
hour in my old New York days when work was done and I had 
unclimbed morning's five long flights of stairs from the drafting 
room. These middle-class people trudging home had the same air 
of tired well-being that my workaday world had had. Desks were 
covered, now ease could be thought of. Were there any tomb- 
stone designers in the lot, I wondered, turning in at the gates to 
these white cuckoo clocks? 

But more a symbol of Haiti was the shoeshine boy on the 
curb, bent up to count his day's few centimes. Half-naked, not 
for lack of either pants or shirt but because of the rents in both 
of these garments, he was as black as if he had shined himself by 
mistake. The Black Republic might be run by the white-collar 
high-browns I had been watching and the no more black politicos 
above them, but it was his country, nevertheless, geared to the 
easygoing pace of his class. 

"Easygoing," however, is an ill-chosen term. Your West Indian 
Negroes are industrious by bursts. If I were their employer and 
my wife's next trip to Europe depended on profits earned by 
them for me, probably I should calljthem lazy: they interlard 
long tasks generously with repose. To the philosophy of the 
North such habits seem wicked. Idleness oiany kind in a machine- 
dominated world spells rust and loss; wn^as in a hand-labor 
world like Haiti's it can be considered beneficial. Men at rest 
recuperate their energies. 

All day, nevertheless, footing the city's poorer streets, what I 
saw was not sloth but break-back endeavor. The porters pushed 
and staggered and poured off quarts of perspiration. At the 
cabinetmakers' the lathes screamed, driven by large-radius wheels 
cranked archaically by hand. In the markets, to be sure, people 
were sitting down and some of them were snoring. But these 


thousands of women had toiled in on foot, ten, fifteen, perhaps 
twenty miles with crushing loads in the baskets on their heads. 
The loudest snorer in the lot could hardly be accused of laziness. 

But the Port-au-Prince markets, greatest in the Antilles, are 
not between-j ourney resting places. Their female Herculeses 
come to sell their yams and scallions and to swap news with 
the women from other valleys. The hard journey, it is, that is 
incidental. On low-bottomed chairs in the wilderness of heaps of 
rice, charcoal, salt, flour, basketry, and produce, they jabber and 
laugh and haggle with the city hawkers. 

As for these last-mentioned acrobats, I found them getting 
their exercise on the spot. How could they balance such towers 
of casseroles on their heads, or huge trays of mirrors, pins, pink 
combs, tinware, soaps, and votive candles? There were urchins 
with two dozen each of straw hats piled on their cucumber- 
shaped craniums and women with eyes just visible through 
heaped-on layers of Mother Hubbards. 

At eleven the open air markets fell to the business of cooking 
lunch. Crones stirred pots ranged around them like kettledrums 
in an orchestra. Fried fish smoked in heaps. Dust blew. Juice- 
smeared tots strewed the ground with slippery mango skins. 
Turbaned Amazons, lost to the pandemonium, gazed a thousand 
miles away, chins on fists. 

Noon in Port-au-Prince whoo! what a sun! It felt like a 
flatiron dropped on my head. Though the ground was calcined 
to ash whiteness and the narrow houses, gray and sinister, swooned 
forward in the heat, here was an asbestos-footed boy trying to fly 
his kite. Hags in black, their charcoal bags now empty, rode up 
the hill on flop-eared donkeys. Life was not baked out of these 
streets by any means. At the Calvary the beggars reached out 
their tremulous bowls; and troubled girls, shoving petitions under 
the hot iron gate for the notice of the Saviour, paced back and 


forth in the glare of the sun with tapers in their hands one 
candle-power each, in that solar incandescence! 

But the Lord has eyes for such pale lights I hope. When piety 
seems foolish, it is time to remember that our instructions are 
to be fools for Him. High Mass in the cathedral was in a less 
foolish vein, however, judging by earthly standards. I think espe- 
cially of the music. 

If there is anything about Protestantism that Catholics envy it 
is the congregational singing. Where Protestant churches were 
the first to be established in the islands, the Roman church has 
had to answer this craving in its converts the black Catholics of 
the Bahamas sing hymns galore; "Onward Christian Soldiers" was 
the rouser to which the Gouyave Rosary Procession marched. 
But the wishes of Pius X, saintly and hopeful, were that all his 
children should return to vocal participation in the Roman liturgy 
and learn and sing its chants. 

His encyclical on that subject has been a tough one to put in 
practice. Gregorian music poses subtle difficulties; but it is the 
old habit of silent listening (or not listening) that most resists 
change. In Port-au-Prince, however, I found the wish beginning 
to be fulfilled. At a distance .like eternity in the vast, long, lofty, 
pale, glass-glittering cathedral, the priests officiated gorgeously at 
the altar, the space behind them filled with seminarians who gave 
the music a foundation. Yes, that choir was basic; the organ 
played a minor part. For though French Church organists, as a 
rule, pull the operatic from their instruments to the very gizzard, 
this Haitian, according to the Pope's desire, played shyly. It was 
the pale gold of a halo that he traced in behind the singing. 

The real singers were the children. I suppose there were three 
hundred present. In the choir aisles the girls from the convent 
schools were ranged, each group with characteristic shoulder 
ribbons. In the nave aisles were the boys, their missals open in 


their hands. Antiphonally the two large unloud choirs sang: now 
the girls in high-soaring silver arcs, now the boys, more huskily, 
in flowing figures like those blown by a slow wind across a field 
of grain. Neither group was perfect but both were great in their 
simplicity. The seminarians, meanwhile, mature voiced and more 
experienced, added the ballast of their cooperation like kindly 

Such doings touched and pleased me. In mid-niggerdom the 
Pope's civilized dream was beginning to come true. When I looked 
about at the starched white clothes of my pew-mates, and the 
boys picking their noses and falling innocently to chanting when 
their turn came; and especially when I saw how these poor 
Christians knelt on the tile after the service, heads to one side 
wistfully, and arms wide-stretched to make the sign of the cross 
with their whole bodies, praying into the luminous deeps of that 
high-vaulted room it was as if I were at Calabash Bay again, 
in the presence of religion at its most simplehearted. 

Yet that morning's French clergy, filing out to a well-earned 
breakfast, must officially regard the Bay's Plymouth Brethren as 
no church at all; rather, as just so many poor fishermen deluding 
themselves with amateur theology. A curious opinion, in a way, 
when from a band of fishermen turned theological on the shores 
of Galilee had sprung their own Church's complex structure. 
Their full-grown giant oak of liturgy, relics, sainthoods, 
bishoprics, sacraments, indulgences, and costly architecture, had 
grown out of one such humble acorn of a beginning. 


For an acorn's-eye view of the Roman tree, all I needed was 
to recall the Brethren's distrust of it. Such majestic branching 
they regarded as gingerbread and gimcrack, not only foreign to 
salvation's plan, but a satanic hindrance to its clear perception. 
Yet from the Anglican bough of the hoary veteran, for all its 
mistletoe, birds' nests, and fungus, their acorn of Plymouthism 
had dropped with the germ of Christianity healthily alive inside 
it. It was the old tale again of age sadly finding youth a fool and 
youth grimly finding age a fogy. 

But such similes lead a tombstone man astray. The Brethren, 
as if their church already were grown to treehood, have a few 
odd birds nesting in their hair. Bertha's song of Father Killam 
the Obea-man was not without significance. Charms are used in 
Pedro. Moreover, Pedro "set-ups" all but duplicate the wakes of 
Haiti except that the Haitians more exactly know the purpose 
of these occasions. As good Catholics the Haitians watch to keep 
the Devil off; as good Voodooists they pky cards and forfeits, tell 
tales, and sing ballads, because an unhappy spirit brings back 
unhappiness to the living, and it is wise, thus, to send him cheerful 
to the grave. 

And meanwhile, as these wakes imply, the Haitian church is 
no ecclesiastical purebred but a double entity two oaks baffingly 
intergrafted and with only one of its original acorns Christian. 
In the Port-au-Prince streets, often, or the markets, I had seen 
people in parti-colored clothing, shirts half red, half white, for 
instance. Such garments, or more elaborate patchworks, were for 
sale in all the poor folks' shops on the Grande Rue. In the 
cathedral none were visible; but, I wondered, were some perhaps 
hidden under this starchy show of white tokens of penance 
prescribed by the Voodoo priests? For the other seed at the root 
of the double tree came from Africa. 

All Haitians are Christians and nearly all of them are Cadi- 


olic; but a large part of these Catholics, in turn (the great peasant 
class, principally, and my shoeshine boy), are Voodooists to boot. 
Thus "holy pictures" serve a larger purpose than the Church 
intends. St. Anthony in his vow-of-poverty tatters is confused 
with Legba, ragged hobbling god of doors and crossroads. St. 
Patrick, thanks to his success with snakes, is identified with 
Damballa, the benign serpent god. Kneeling devoutly before the 
altar of the Mater Dolorosa, with arms outstretched and face full 
of piety, the Haitian may be winging her prayer to Gran' Erzilie, 
rich god of the long-dead. 

But if Voodoo thus penetrates Catholicism, it is a mutual inter- 
penetration. Its own rites and sacrifices are prefaced by the Pater 
Noster, Credo, Ave Maria, a long adoration, and longer benedic- 
tion. The crucifix on the family altar is venerated as a symbol 
superior even to the egg and thunderstone as Christ is to the 
other gods. At the ritual dances, drums that have been baptized 
with holy water are used, properly to induce frenzy: each drum 
has its Christian godfather and godmother. And after the sacri- 
ficial animals have been killed, and the gods have been fed, and 
the public dancing is ended, the very devotees who have been 
most possessed who have burst through the roof thatch, wal- 
lowed in the river, or writhed in the agonies brought by Ti Kita 
D6membr6, the joint-dislocating god will be at Mass next morn- 
ing wholeheartedly worshiping the Saviour. 

It seems contradictory and, to non-Haitian Catholics, dreadful 
But the Plymouth Brethren would say that if you address prayers 
to St. Anthony or the Mater Dolorosa you might as well add 
Legba and Gran' Erzilie to the list, all superstitions being on a 
par. Or to the true mountain Haitian, luxuriating in the huge 
pantheon of his double religion, the Roman half of it for all its 
princely pomp and claimed sufficiency must seem as partial, poor, 
and narrow, as the Brethren's church does to a right-thinking 


As for the Old Creole Days little girls next door, in their Ladies' 
Book Swiss chalet, probably they will never be touched by any 
religion but the one the good nuns explain to them in the Convent 
of St. Rose of Lima. Or perhaps they will. At Saut d'Eau, per- 
haps, after the throngs have come out from the festal vespers, 
and the lamps glitter through the darkening forest by St. John's 
holy springs, one of them may abruptly stagger, as the gods use 
her voice to prophesy in the dialects of Guinea. To a Haitian, 
religious experience can come as a nerve-shattering paroxysm. 

But for pure wonder, a possession so terrific is no more won- 
derful than the knowledge of truth that changes the soul of some 
Calabash Bay fisherman. A word, a brightness in the sky some 
such quiet clue is the final one to disclose salvation to him while 
he mends his nets. Almost shy, there it is: a truth as small, com- 
plete, and easily grasped as a brown acorn laid in his hand. For 
the miracle iii these things is that they are living. Whether an oak 
is tree or acorn is a secondary matter or whether a church is 
Plymouthism with one self-humbled God, full-flowering Ro- 
manism with its saints and lovely Virgin, or Voodooism with 
pantheon darkly vast. 

The great thing, certainly, about religion in the West Indies 
(and it will be so, too, believe me, on any island of mine) is, that 
it is so much alive. In the Protestant islands it sets people to 
quoting Scripture on the streets and to singing hymns for social 
fun.. In the Catholic islands it moves people in long processions 
and makes them kneel at shrines: I see the boatmen's saints again, 
watching on the rocks of the St. Lucian coast, and the Puerto 
Ricans, with brass bands and silver banners, worshiping out of 
doors on Corpus Christi day. In Haiti it rises up in seraphic chant- 
ing and bursts out in the heathen cacophony of drums. 

But this thud of baptized drums wakened by sincerely pious 
hands who are we to call it heathen? Isaac Watts is a babe of 


hymnody; Gregory the Great lived only yesterday. Drums and 
dancing and blood sacrifices pleased Jehovah in the Old Dispensa- 
tion. And before that, and before the days of islands, when the 
waters covered the earth, it was the cacophony of waves that rose 
to the changeless One's greater glory. 


Chapter Vlll. 


was coming, and thank heaven! he had a letter for me. "Rail- 
way station please!" I called to the driver, and tore the letter 

Dear Miss Smith, I read, while the carriage-top fringes flipped, 
and the driver jangled his chimes; We are delighted to have you 
come to Blue Hole. Mr. Hairs, the plantation overseer, will meet 
you at the train. Cordially, Amy Taylor. 

"Miss Smith! She is expecting a lady!" I moaned, catching nerv- 
ously at my bags. So this was the assurance of welcome for which 
I had waited! And how, wkh my moustache, was Mr. Hairs to 
recognize 'Miss Smith' in a crowd of strangers? 

The lights of Montego Bay, at last that night, sparkled below in 
the dark; down the hot rails toward them the train came rattling. 
Of course the station platform was packed. I knew it would be. 
However, "You are Mr. Hairs?" I said to a tall man who didn't 
seem to be meeting anyone else, and Mr. Hairs it was. 

"Mr. Smith!" cried a friendly lady in the back seat of the car, 
welcoming me and the bags. "Amy will be delighted! Women 
guests are such a bother. I know, because I have been one myself 
for ages. Your hostess has grown quite tired of me. In fact, I have 
been ready a week to go home to Cousins Cove; but how could we 
part until it had been settled which you were, a man or a woman? 


Such an odd name, 'Glanville'; it had us no end puzzled. Row- 
land," she called to Mr. Hairs, "don't forget to honk at the gate. 
You see," she informed me, "if you turned out to be a man after 
all, we arranged to honk two longs and a short. Amy was too busy 
to come with us, but wanted a warning, so as to know which 
speech to recite as you came up the steps: she of course has had to 
prepare two. My own name," she finished, leaning back, "is Hay." 

"I suspect I shall like Blue Hole," I told her in heartfelt relief. 
For this was my first short visit to the Tropics, now more than a 
few years ago, and Jamaica seemed very hot and foreign to the 
holiday-keeping tombstone man. 

"It's a great place," said Mrs. Hay. "Something always up! New 
kittens this morning in Amy's wardrobe. And last Thursday it was 
an earthquake. Oh, what a fright we had! Amy and I fell into each 
other's arms; but Rowland, who is always so brave, said 'Be calm: 
it's the donkeys fallen from the hill to the dining-room roof.' You 
got them down, too, didn't you, Rowland," she went on, "even if 
one of them did take the gutter with him." 

But here was the gate, and a Negro boy springing to open it. 
Two longs and a short! Here were the terrace steps between 
croton hedges, veranda steps hooded in blossoming jasmine, and 
Miss Taylor at the top to greet me. And here, no less grateful to 
the tired traveler, was the mosquito net drawn around me and the 
bed at last. Pussy had lit, no doubt of it, in catnip. It was like the 
arrival in Santfsima Trinidad on my more recent and far rangier 
journey one of those otherworldly lucky landings. And though 
I was no essayist at this date, industriously absorbing truth and 
falsehood, I learned so much at Blue Hole about the agreeable side 
of plantation life that I make a chapter of it. 


The Blue Hole mornings invariably dawned fair and fine. First 
visitors were the humming birds, waiting for a touch of the sun to 
open new hibiscus flowers outside the windows. Then the tinkling- 
grackles would begin to tinkle. And the donkeys would make their 
daily experiment, leaning over the fence for a mouthful of bou- 
gainvillea blossoms to learn if they still were prickly. 

My bedroom opened into a bath, the bath into a fern garden cut 
into the hillside, and that garden into the main flower garden at 
the side of the house; and since all the doors were always open, 
this was the way my friend Scamp came in, the plantation dog. 

He was a big white kindly fellow, who every morning brought 
me some gift or other, a bit of coral, or a gaudy leaf pulled from 
the croton hedge. Pleased as Punch to be remembered, I would lift 
the mosquito net to let him in; whereupon he would drop his gift 
on my chest, then curl up on the foot of the bed, sigh, roll back 
his eyes for a loving look, and sink into a snooze. 

Meanwhile the servants were beginning to stir. From the draw- 
ing-room into which my bedroom opened, came a noise between 
a whistle and a swish, and through the keyhole I spied the cause of 
it: Rhoda was polishing the floor with a half coconut husk. After 
this process, she perfected the gloss by planting her bare feet on 
two cloths and skating methodically to and fro. 

At the same time "Lil the butler," as she was called, drew my 
bath. Miss Taylor had read somewhere that Americans take cold 
morning baths invariably, and a cold bath was what Lil the butler 
drew. The water was piped direct from a mountain spring; I 
couldn't bear the thought of getting into it. 

However, it would never do openly to admit that I was a softy, 
unable to enjoy a cold plunge like a true American; for which rea- 
son it was my habit to splash awhile with one foot, then pull the 
plug, and so let the ice-water shoot out into the garden. To this 
day Lil the butler and Rhoda, whose ears no doubt were pressed 


in horror to the far side of the palmwood wall, think that I actually 
took those baths. 

In the tub one day dry at the time I found a lizard, doing his 
best to climb the porcelain side. Poor fellow, though he raced his 
legs so fast that they were invisible, he still got nowhere. I offered 
to help him with a towel, but his response to this was to pop down 
the drain. 

More trustful was the toad, big as a flatiron, that lived under the 
tub. He was a wrinkled, peaceable, old customer. When, in the 
bright sunshine, I would set up the mirror in the fern garden door 
and shave, he sometimes would take half a jump and unclose the 
little jewels of his eyes. Or he'd turn his back and sleep. We made 
no demands upon each other and so got along very well. 

Breakfast was at seven. The tropical day has a drowsy gap in 
the middle of it, and so must begin early. But the days at Blue Hole 
could not well be too long. I guessed that the first morning, when 
I looked down on the glistening coconut groves and sea. 

Near at hand poinsettias flamed, allspice trees lifted towers of 
rich green. Ezekiel, the "boy," came and went with a tin on his 
head, watering the vegetable patch. In the common at the foot of 
the hill, where the cattle and goats grazed, the plantation laborers 
already were swinging their cutlasses, clearing the day's allotted 
acre of the shrubby growths that had sprung up since the last rains. 

After breakfast my habit was to spend mornings at the cove. On 
some days, however, a norther blew from Cuba. When this hap- 
pened the villagers bandaged their heads in flannel to keep the 
tooth-ache off, and I went not to the cove, but to the ragged coral 
shelf of Barbican, the next plantation, to watch the surf. The rocks 
were too sharp to sit on but I soon learned that a coconut husk 
eased that misery. 

It was a rousing performance. The waves piled up, and exploded 
into sheaves of diamonds, and churned, and spouted, and fell back 
in shawls of foamy lacework. Nor could I help admiring the crabs 


that sat calmly in the most exposed places and took all that buffet- 
ing. No shock could ruffle their dour decorum. They put me in 
mind of the Texas outlaw, who was so tough that in the electric 
chair he blew out the fuse. 

Usually, however, mornings were serene. Under the veranda 
hung a stem of ripe bananas from which Scamp, who was very neat 
about it, was permitted to help himself. I had the same privilege, 
and would fill my pockets when ready to trudge down to the cove. 

Before I had come to Jamaica I had formed a happy idea of the 
place. The St* Ann's waterfalls were old stamp-album friends; 
there was Tom Cringle's Log; and in The Sea and the Jungle I 
had read that the island was a jewel that smelled like a flower. But 
I had not guessed that I should have a cove of my own to revel in, 
like this. 

There was a crescent of beach, with coconut trees leaning over 
it, and sea-grape trees with leathery round leaves just right for 
picnic plates. There were ramparts of coral rock at the two ends 
to dive from, with the wickerwork of mangroves beyond, where 
crabs went climbing. There was a pelican standing guard and a 
reef to keep the sharks out. 

In the arms of a crooked sea grape I played the mouth organ, 
ate bananas, and read Ovid's Metamorphoses. As reading, this was 
not very up-to-date, and while I was at it the world's problems 
went unsolved. Still, it suited: when I looked up from those hot 
and hard old stories, sometimes so beautiful, oftentimes so bar- 
barous, and saw the palm leaves glint and the sea swell shoreward 
in long turquoise undulations, and the white coral rock burning 
in the sun, I would stretch my figleaf-naked self and startle the 
pelican with a classic blast on the harmonica. 

On the cove sands lay a dugout canoe that I was free to use. 
Since an old Greek from Minnesota is never so much at home as 
when he has a paddle in his hand, I spent plenty of time afloat, 
following the shore or striking out to sea. But die reef gave me 


the freshest pleasure. Blissfully, hours at a time, I cruised over it 

Excitement heats me to this day when I remember those sand- 
paved caverns, fenced around with mustard-colored elkhorns, 
gigantic moss-green cauliflowers, lilac-tinted tubes where the 
dissolving gray of weightless sea-feathers nodded, and sea-fans 
fanned in nets of burning purple. Pink anemones beamed, fan- 
tastic fish swam in and out in schools like movable bright beds 
of flowers. 

Sometimes the flying fish, like silver bullets, would come in 
about the canoe, ricocheting on the glassy water with the sound 
of a fountain. Or a Portaguese-man-o'-war would drift by, a clear 
blue gelatinous bubble as big as your fist, with a clear pink-jelly 
frill on top, inflated to make a sail. 

But by eleven the sea breeze was lolloping in. It was time for a 
swim and then for luncheon. 

After lunch, a nap, and then came tea. 

In the West Indies the Negroes think it a burden to carry things 
in their hands. They prefer to balance them on their heads. At first 
when a woman came down the street with a writing desk in that 
position I had set people to laughing by asking, "Is she a public 
stenographer?" But now I had got used to seeing the school 
children with their books up there, and the laundresses with their 


clothesbaskets, or even a boy going to post a letter with a rock on 
top of it to keep it from blowing off. Even so, when Lil the butler 
would clap the tea tray on her head, and skip for the kitchen, 
I never ceased to be surprised. 

A Jamaican tea is something to brag about. Wistfully I recall 
the cashew biscuits, the crisp buttery lacework of cassava wafers. 
And since Blue Hole was a plantation where two hundred thou- 
sand nuts were harvested every year, coconut cake was a luxury 
Miss Taylor frequently could afford. After all this, however, I 
really could not do justice to the delights of dinner unless I went 
mountain climbing first. 

The house, as Mrs. Hay's story of the earthquake had fore- 
warned me, was built into a hillside. This made for safety in a 
hurricane, and indeed the old house more than once had had to 
stand that chief of West Indian scourges. Miss Taylor liked to 
recall one storm when the piano blew out the front door with a 
rumble and a pop, which ended her music lessons forever. But 
Jamaican hills are likely to be mountains, and such they were at 
Blue Hole. Thus I could go mountain climbing after tea as readily 
as I went reef cruising after breakfast, and every day I did it. 
Sometimes Mrs. Hay would grasp a stick and come along. 

A favorite climb was the Mango Walk. The path to the heights 
on which the villagers grew shallots and yams and cocoa lilies in 
a cooler altitude, led through steep groves of mangoes and bam- 
boos and came out grandly into the open gardens at last. On the 
way I would meet people coming down with yams they had 
dug. "Respects to you, my master!" would boom a stately Negro 
woman, curtsying in spite of the heavy basket on her head; her 
bright turban and dark cutlass would make her look most pic- 
turesque. Upon hearing such a greeting the little Northern re- 
publican would beam with pleasure. 

Near the ridge top was a spring in a hollow of the rock with 
maidenhair ferns around it. This made my destination. Sitting 


there to catch my wind, I would look down into the golden 
afternoon world, past the cocky plumes of the breadfruit trees, 
feather-duster bamboo clumps, and dense balls of mango greenery 
to the coconut flats by the sea, and watch the steamers, blunt and 
busy, and the white sails of beautiful becalmed sailing ships. 

It was a peaceable world, and better still its peaceableness 
seemed a part of myself. My soul, usually just of the peanut size, 
swelled out in pygmy grandeur, and all the dear works of the 
Creator, spread out so beautifully below, filled it with calm and 

At dinnertime would come a sudden sunset; the mountains 
blackened, the clouds turned a dreadful red. In the silence all at 
once the lapping of waves would rise to us from the black sands 
of Barbican Bay. But distant sounds soon were smothered in the 
thick din of night insects. The Muscovy ducks, heads under 
wings, slept perched on the cannons sunk in the terrace turf. No 
piratical surprises these nights to set that old battery to barking! 

The tropical darkness descended with a rush, overwhelming, 
velvet-black. But in the middle of it, bravely gay, was our veranda 
dinner table with its old silver and flowered china, fringed napkins 
standing in the glasses, little nosegays of hibiscus and jasmine, and 
beaming lamp. Strange moths flitted overhead, praying mantises 
jumped into the salad, but nobody minded. Mr. Hairs sat at my 
left, Miss Taylor carved at my right. Opposite sat Mrs. Hay, look- 
ing humorous, and Mrs. Rankine, Miss Taylor's aunt. 

Mrs. Rankine, years before, after a long life of industry and 
self-sacrifice had decided to grow old. So she shrank down to the 
mosquito size and lost her wits, and never afterward bothered to 
do a tap of work or talk sensibly. From her own plantation in 
the mountains her bed had been fetched, a huge black structure in 
native mahogany, carved with pineapples and scrolls, in whose 
company she was perfectly content. She teased the public with 
very strange sewing and said cryptic things in a merry voice, and 


in general lived a life of mysterious privacy. But she liked the 
American visitor well enough and enjoyed being winked at now 
and then. And though she never said much herself at table, she 
laughed more gaily than anybody when one of the rest of us 
was witty. 

Mrs. Hay was full of puns and drolleries. After she had said 
something especially good, she had a habit of covering her face 
with her hand in mock embarrassment; but since one finger was 
lost from that hand she could peep through slyly and enjoy our 
laughter. For all her puns, however, she lived a life of sadness. 
Her husband, who had been a hospitable, princely sort of man, 
was dead; their daughter, who was a beauty, had gone away to 
New York; and her plantation Cousins Cove was falling to ruin. 

She left Blue Hole before I did. I shall never forget the night 
ride when we took her home, now humping over a white bridge 
with the sea rushing in beneath, now skirting a bay where the 
fishermen brandished enormous flaming torches on the rocks. 
Never did anything make night so black, as those Negroes' torches. 
Then here was Cousins Cove at last, with the dogs in their rapture, 
jumping on the dining table. 

But it was a far, lonely, decrepit place to leave that good Scots- 
woman, and so I am glad to say that she came back to Blue Hole 
the following Tuesday. Miss Taylor craved company, too; and 
in Jamaica, as was true in our own Old South, plantation visitors 
come often and stay a long time. 

Mr. Hairs was a quiet man, whose British habit of speaking 
without moving his lips was exaggerated to a point where I could 
understand but little of what he said. But he was very patient 
about repeating, and about instructing me in the names of things. 
"It's a Betsy-kickup, that bird," he would say, and break into a 
smile, for the darky names he thought very funny. He was at 
home on a horse and wore the oldest, droopiest, most comfort- 
able hat you can imagine. 


Coconut day was his busy day as it was Mrs. Rankine's. She 
stood on the veranda watching the sale and murmuring, "Coc'nut, 
coc'nut," and nodding and smiling, while he, down below, dick- 
ered with the dozen buyers. It was the 'same, I suppose, in pimento 
time, when the allspice berries had been dried on the sun "barbe- 
cues," and were ready to dispose of. But at noon the sale was 
over. He would retire into his office under the steps; and the 
buyers, each man with a fire of his own down by the old breeze 
mill, would cook their dozen lunches of yams and fish. 

Of Miss Taylor's qualities as a hostess it is a pleasure to speak. 
She was easy, entertaining, and thoughtful. But sometimes she 
was a bit absent-minded, as you will understand when I tell you 
how her bathing suit was lost. We were all going to Orchard, 
three or four plantations away, to swim; there was the hulk of a 
wrecked steamer lying on the beach to dress in, and it was going 
to be a frolic. 

But when all was ready Miss Taylor's suit was gone. Not ten 
minutes before it had lain on a chair where several of us had seen 
it. Now it was nowhere, as exhaustive search proved. Even Scamp 
was accused of having run off with it. Poor Miss Taylor was 
desperate until Rhoda gasped: "Lord a-matty, Miss Amy! You got 
it on!" Sure enough, she had put it on under her frock to make 
changing simpler when we got to the beach. 

Thus it was the aptness rather than the absent-mindedness of 
her remark at dinner one evening that made it memorable. We 
were having roast pig the Blue Hole porkers, by the way, are 
fed on breadfruit, coconut, and bananas and midway through 
the meal she turned to me and politely murmured, "Won't you 
have more of the filling, Mr. Stuffing?" 

At this, in a paroxysm, Mrs. Hay retired behind her four- 
fingered hand; Mrs. Rankine fetched out a high cackle; and Mr. 
Hairs, who seldom got beyond a mournful grin, had to laugh too. 


"Mr. Stuffing" was my name henceforward at Blue Hole and I 
never bothered to be undeserving of it. 

Miss Taylor, in fact, had sensed from the first that, devoted 
though I might be to the dear dishes of the dear homeland, what 
I wanted in Jamaica was Jamaican dishes. So she sent her ranger 
into the bush for native fruit, star apples with purple flesh, rusty 
brown naseberries, granadillas whose seeds I drank in their own 
liquor, soursops for sherbet. 

There was cocoa-bud soup and pumpkin soup, fried plantain, 
steamed breadfruit, akee-on-toast. There were stuffed chochos 
and delicious fish brought on the run fresh every noon from 
Barbican Bay; guava or cashew fruit preserves, and puddings made 
of sweet potatoes and ginger. There was coconut water in a tall 
pitcher with a weighted lace cover over the top, and coffee from 
the Blue Mountains. And the way I not merely sampled but 
gorged upon all these good things earned very legitimately the 
name Miss Taylor's slip of the tongue had given me. 

After dinner the mail would be brought by William, who came 
whistling in the dark. Letters I seldom got, and so I would beg to 
be excused and walk down to the sea. 

At Blue Hole the night world in some ways is more beautiful 
than the world by day. When a leaf falls from a coconut tree, as 
constantly happens, it is fifteen feet long and a yard wide and 
so makes something of a blot on the lawn. But at night you do 
not see it, whereas the palm leaves overhead, in crisp silhouette, 
look finer than ever. I soon became an ardent coconut palmist 
and would stand enraptured under a not-too-tall tree, with the 
wigwam of its lattice about me and the stars blinking through 
above until the sound of a ripe nut dropping from some other 


tree would pull my head into its collarbone and send me into the 
open on the jump. 

Beyond the gate was the bridge. Blue Hole's blue hole is a 
spring, actually of an agate color;* and from it a surprisingly large 
stream flows through banks of watercress and Job's-tears to 
the sea. 

In the daytime, in the water by the bridge, stand the Negro 
women of Barbican and Sandy Bay, doing their washing. Miss 
Taylor regarded the custom as most uncouth, but immemorial 
use had established it as their British right before she was born, 
so she could do nothing to alter matters. 

The girls' skirts were certainly tucked high. "Oh, what a pretty 
gentleman! Good enough to eat!" they would call when I went 
by. Or, "Wonder why gentleman don't carry a cane?" Then 
they would smack their wet clothes and laugh uproariously. 

But at night the stream and the bridge were as still as a grave. 
If a Negro did come riding on his mule, he would wheel in fright 
at the glimmer of my white trousers, before calling a relieved 
"Evening, sir!" 

Beyond the bridge was a palmy bit of shore, neat and narrow: 
here I walked. It was the dark of the moon, there was no horizon, 
the stars overhead ran down into new mirrorwise constellations 
under my feet while I paced on this shelf among them. On such 
nights, or even more when the moon returned and swamped the 
world in radiance, there would be music from across the water. 
Sandy Bay would fall to singing. 

Sandy Bay is no great place, but it is enough bigger than Cala- 
bash Bay to boast a post office. When I bought stamps there, the 
postmistress would put down the gungo-peas she was shelling and 
pass the time of day. 

Above her office and bedroom was the district court, a bare 

* Jamaica's more famous ''Blue Hole" is a cove in the coast near Port Antonio, of a 
blue genuinely vivid. 


clean place where Mrs. Hay and I one day heard a Negro arraigned 
for "furious driving." Thirty-five miles an hour had been his 
speed, but he had come around a corner on the wrong side which 
had caused the mischief. His witness, a healthy black boy, kissed 
the Bible with a report like a pistol shot, whereupon the Irish 
inspector, to whom things Jamaican were as new as they were to 
me, could not help laughing, even though he was seated by the 
magistrate. And when the trial was over, here were the children 
outside, screaming their multiplication tables under a soursop 
tree, and the fishermen bringing in their catch. 

But at night Sandy Bay broke out in music. On a palm log 
I would sit and listen. 

First there would be drum music, big drum and tom-tom con- 
trasting their slow and rapid rhythms; this soon passed into a 
grand vocal concert of Moody and Sankey hymns. Stanza upon 
stanza, the tramp, tramp, tramp of chords would march across 
the mirror of the sea, rich, swelling, and full. One night a fisher- 
man setting his nets between the singers' side of the bay and mine, 
unseen and alone on the starlit water, invented melodies of his 
own and wove them into the village harmony. 

In a word, here were doings of exactly the kind I hope for on 
my island except, of course, that I was a listener rather than a 
participant. No, these singers were my inferiors, with whom for 
the good of the delicately-balanced Blue Hole world it was not 
well for the white guest to mix. Mr. Hairs and he and I were 
one, here, in a sense bought their labor as he needed it, gave 
orders or was patronizing from on horseback, and collected the 
rent; while they tilled their hilltop fields communally and washed 
clothes at the plantation gate. 

But a well-balancing world is something to admire; if honor 
lay on one side and mere numbers on the other, it was nice to be 
where honor was my inherent portion. Nor did I find anything 
to mar the tenor of those Blue Hole days. 


But they ended at last, of course. We breakfasted gloomily in- 
doors that morning. Cooped in the dining room, with the ladles 
and blue finger glasses glowering from the sideboard, I felt the 
end already upon me. Mrs. Rankine had got up in the middle of 
the night to be present, and put on her best dress. 

Here were the servants, Rhoda and Lil the butler, Ezekiel and 
William, and the cook whom I had seldom seen but to whom I 
was most indebted of any all wishing me health, good fortune, 
and a speedy return, while the jasmine leaves over their heads 
began to show color in the first chilly light of morning. Good-by! 
good-by! And off I rode. 

The next letter I got from Miss Taylor began, not Dear Miss 
Smith, but Dear Mr. Stuffing. It told how Scamp, the day after 
this departure, had come in with a hunk of coral in his mouth as 
usual. But then he saw the bed empty and was disgusted and 
dropped the coral with a thump. Then he went out through the 
fern garden, down through the big garden, and so under the 
veranda and ate a banana. 

When I was in Jamaica again, on this more recent journey of 
mine, I hustled out to Blue Hole very promptly: one of a 
traveler's pleasures is the return to scenes no longer strange. The 
place certainly seemed homelike here was old Scamp at the 
top of the steps, and Miss Taylor, Ezekiel, and the rest. Only 
Mrs. Rankine, more mysterious in her fun than ever, had gone 
away; she had left the green isle where old age had been so happy, 
for the surer and even kindlier serenities of heaven. 


Chapter IX. 


active life. There is too much of the Anglo-Saxon in me, or maybe 
it is the Devil, to accept the Blue Hole kind of indolence unless 
I have partly earned it. But whereas in Cold Spring it would seem 
I must await a serene and carpet-slippery old age to read Parson 
Woodf orde's Diaries entire, or compose a sonata for the neighbor 
children's toy piano, on my island I shall revel in these enter- 
prises in the prime of life, confident that such moral duties as 
spading cow manure into the garden won't suffer in consequence. 
In the small orbit of island life, that is, I hope really to be able 
to tend to business. 

William Thornton of old Tortola was an islander whose life 
was a model Even the time he wasted I'm sure he wasted with a 
will it could hardly have been for want of more positive plans. 

Tortola is the chief island of the British Virgins; the Thornton 
estate was Pleasant Valley. When William came to his inheritance 
he was newly married, a young man trained as a physician. But 
the cares of managing an estate and of practicing medicine did not 
drain away the energies of our hero, nor did the delights of wed- 
lock, nor the disciplined enthusiasms of religion (he was a 
Quaker). No, for his soul's private exercise he evolved a system 
of philology, Cadmus, or the Elements of Written Language; 
and to top all off, in his rustic retreat he sat down and designed 
the United States' capitol building. 


What bliss! Private fun became a public wonder: though he 
reached Philadelphia too late to enter his design in the competi- 
tion that Jefferson had advertised, it was so much better than those 
punctually received that the latter were all thrown out. He "won 
the $500 and the Washington city lot. 

Tortola never saw Thornton after this; he stayed to organize 
the Patent Office, to breed race horses, and enchant society with 
his conversation, and so died a mainlander after all. It seems a pity. 
I wish he had come back to Pleasant Valley. Tortola, it is, that 
remembers him: the mainland has forgotten the amazing amate-ur. 
And since familiarity with legislative bodies breeds contempt, we 
have grown to regard the domed legislative building he invented 
as something of a fraud. Our newest state capitols are office build- 
ings frankly hives for job holders. But in Thornton's day the 
republican process of government was still touched with its early 
sublimity, and his expression of this in a dome was a masterstroke. 
The other New World capitol builders, from Minnesota to the 
Argentine, copied it for a hundred years* 

Thornton arrived on the mainland with his title to greatness 
already earned. As a rule, however, the West Indies' famous men 
have left their islands before accomplishing the work that was to 
make them notable. Alexander Hamilton (of Nevis) was an infant 
prodigy in St. Croix where he spent his boyhood, but it was in 
American fiscal affairs that he won his fame. Brion, Bolivar's 
admiral, helped free not his native Curasao but the South Amer- 
ican states. Born in Haiti, Audubon painted North American 
birds. Born in St. Thomas, Pissarro, the genial "Dutch uncle" of 
the Impressionists, painted French landscapes. The twin-named 
poets of Santiago de Cuba, Jose Maria Heredia, and Jos6-Maria de 
Heredia, both became naturalized mainlanders de Heredia a 
Frenchman, the great master of the French sonnet, Heredia a 

The Spanish-writing Heredia, however, is a special case, He 


was a political exile; enforced absence from still colonial Cuba 
made him only the more passionately Cuban. This luminary among 
Latin-American poets belongs, rather, on the list of West Indians 
of international consequence who were islanders forever with 
Finlay the Cuban bacteriologist who first accused the mosquito of 
carrying yellow fever; with Hostos the Puerto Rican, so valuable 
to the cause of Latin-American education that the first locomotive 
to chuff across the Andes was named in his honor; or with black 
Toussaint of Haiti, almost legendary as soldier and statesman, and 
the West Indies' chief native-born hero of any color.* 

Since it is too late now for me to be born an islander myself, 
I take special interest in the lives of mainlanders who have gone 
to the isles to unfold their talents: Ponce de Le6n, or Rodney, 
or (less illustrious but, to me, more inspiring) Bryan Edwards, 
the opening chapter of whose history of the British islands is a 
classic of geographical prose writing. And because his aptitudes 
like my own are still more curious and minor, it is pleasant to 
think of the robed and earringed figure of the old Jew, Lopez 
Laguna, safe at last under a Jamaican fig tree after the long horror 
of the Inquisition, translating King David's psalms into the 
"redondilos, quintilos, terzettos, decimes, madrigals, and ro- 
mances" of his Faithftd Mirror of Life. What setting like an island 
for a labor at once so daffy and so delicious? 

Robb White, not yet immortal so far as I know, was an even 
more pertinent example. I looked at him with care while we rode 
out to Tortola together on the mail boat. With short hair bleached 
by the sun and tanned cheerful visage, he made a very whole- 
some picture of an escapist. 

Marina Cay was his and his wife's hermitage. He had bought 
it entire beach, rocks, and all for the price of a good overcoat, 

* One other Haitian general deserves mentionthe mulatto Alexandra Dumas, 
not because of island renown, but because of the family he reared in France: Dumas 
pete was his son, Dumas fils his grandson. 


and since he would never need an overcoat now he really had got 
it for nothing, so you might say. It was the perfect home for a 
writer of children's books to work in. 

However, it was not yet his actual address. The cost of build- 
ing something more than a grass hut on a far reef-guarded scrap 
of Arcady was appalling; he had just been to St. Thomas to 
inquire about it. No; but if the ultimate insularity of Marina Cay 
was yet in prospect he already knew the island life. At Seacow 
Bay, Tortola, he had been busy over his manuscripts for some 
time. Both he and his wife a vigorous girl who made the native 
Tortolians gasp by climbing for coconuts as if she were a boy 
liked fishing and sailing and photographing birds. And there were 
duties. "When other fun gives out, we can always scrape the 
cistern," he added gamely; for though Tortola was a far larger 
island than his own, it was still too small to provide underground 
sources of fresh water to tap with a well. 

Talk like this made my island seem both more possible and 
more impossible. About us, meanwhile, as the launch plowed 
through the radiant waters of Pillsbury Sound, were islands near, 
neat, and uninhabited. Fd have given an overcoat for any one 
of them. 

Presently we skirted St. John with its bright coves and wilder- 
ness of green hills: a cherry-red roof or a stone tower poked above 
the trees for an occasional reminder that man is master of the 
planet. And then through the steep gorge of the mountainous 
Narrows we swung, and so into the West Indies' grandest seaway, 
Sir Francis Drake Channel. 

What a setting for a fleet of Elizabethan ships, lanterned, high- 
pooped, rich-bepennoned! Drake had a sense of the picturesque, 
sailing this hidden way to the siege of Puerto Rico. Yet in this 
same obscure world of brine and hill it was, in the tranquillity of 
his study ashore, that Thornton wrote Cadmus and designed his 



capitol: to the north, with bush slopes gilt-edged by the day's 
last sunshine, ky Tortola, the Isle of Doves. 

Robb White was not the sole mainlander for whom Tortola was 
a haven. The hotel had been taken over by one who occupied all 
three rooms as a means of guarding his privacy; for, as he told 
me, if there was anything he detested it was the American tourist. 
Since this was what both of us were, it was surprising to have him 
look me up a second time to enlarge on the theme, but after that 
I managed to elude him. 

It was Mistress Jennings who took care of me. As if putting 
my Matanzas student's welcome into literal practice in Road 
Town, she moved out of her house and let me have it. I suppose 
she slept in the kitchen, a rickety shed propped up among the 
crab holes; it was Orwin who slept in the pantry her nephew 
and a being no less kind. 

The bedroom was next the street and was painted Indian red. 
In time I ceased to notice the mosquitoes much, and could squirm 
inside the net without leaving an inch gap anywhere about me. 
The parlor was painted brown, and on a table, in a dish, were 
the postcards that Mistress Jennings had received to date. Behind 
this was the dining room, painted blue. 

I think of the dining room most fondly. Into it Orwin would 
bound in his khaki shorts, bearing a pot of coffee that tasted like 
cough medicine or a platter from which a much-peppered fish 
stared up dolefully. It was the Creole diet complete, and after a 


day of footing the island's trails I could do it justice. While I 
was at this, Orwin would sit in the- pantry, Bible on bare knees, 
chanting psalms in a private but resonant darky voice; then to 
the kitchen he would gallop to fetch pineapple slabs for a dessert. 

Mistress Jennings not only plied the guest with her best recipes, 
but set the table as if every day were Sunday. Her silver sugar 
bowl had a dove for its lid handle, which bird seemed a symbol 
of the place: tortola is the Spanish word for "turtle dove." While 
Orwin resumed his poetry and I began my fruit, it was easy to 
fall to thinking of the outdoor doves I had learned to know. For 
though the mongoose, that gimlet-toothed rascal brought from 
India to prey on cane-field rats, had stayed to prey on the ground- 
nesting birds instead, doves were still the islands' commonest 
feathered creatures. I thought of the tobacco doves especially, so 
gregarious, with a lining of burnt orange under their rattling 

Then my thoughts would roam away to the hummingbirds, 
and how they proved Pliny's saying (as one of the first writers 
on the Caribbees exclaimed), that Nature's least works are her 
greatest. Tobago's dude, the king-of-the-woods, had kindly 
showed his Joseph's coat for my benefit; in Curasao the parakeets 
in strident flocks had wheeled over the Fuik Bay lignum vitaes. 
And in Jamaica, on Catherine's Peak, while I ate ham sandwiches 
for breakfast, the solitaire had chanted his slow crystalline melody 
from a fog-drenched thicket: once and for all, that morning, the 
false notion I had brought to the tropics was dispelled that no 
tropical bird can sing. 

The bird music most noteworthy in the islands, however, is 
made by the crowing cocks. Road Town boasted the usual brass 
band, but it was a lady of the breed, there, that was my special 

Across the street from Mistress Jennings's and near enough to 
hit with a peashooter was the house inhabited by this hen and 


her mistress. It was a house with two front doors, one gaping into 
mid-air, and over the sill of this false door the lady sold a penny's 
worth of salt or plantains now and then or argued a point of 
divinity. Did "eternal" in Bible use, for instance, signify a longer 
period than "everlasting"? 

Between trade and such chitchat Mistress Audley was always 
occupied. So was her hen, anchored near by with a piece of iron. 
The hen had chicks, there was eating to do to educate them in 
the process not a moment could be lost. Thus, when rain 
threatened and the iron was picked up to lead her home, she 
squawked bloody murder. Hereupon my neighbor, seating her- 
self on the steps of the real front door, would first deliver a short 
lecture on obedience, then turn her pet over on her lap and 
spank her. 

When the rain fell that Mistress Audley's old eyes had fore- 
seen, the mountaintops would disappear, and even the near-by 
coconut trees turned to silver. It was a poor time for business but 
good for hymns: with hen fluffed up at her feet to keep the chicks 
from damp, she would sit in the other doorway and sing in big, 
thrilling, lonesome tones. 

Living at Mistress Jennings's, in fact, gave me opportunity to 
enjoy the noises of a not-white, poor, island neighborhood. At 
home in Cold Spring the tombstone man is muffled all day in the 
grate of saws on granite, and at night the radio makes a cease- 
less background for conversation. But this was like my imagined 
island, where the only mechanical sound was the whirr of a sewing 
machine or two, briskly treadled. 

No chugging hearse sped the Road Town deceased to the 
cemetery: plank coffins were carried by, by faithful friends. With 
scuffle of feet and swinging canes, wedding processions came 
along and the parson clattered away to pay sick calls on his pony. 
The town's traffic problem, in fact, was the tethering on market 
days of such mounts as his. 


From the sea, conch-shell hoots announced the approach of 
fishing boats with their catch for sale. The hill gardeners strode 
by, heads laden with produce, bantering one another, or airing 
grievances. And while I stretched out on the gallery to digest my 
food, the neighbor women broke the day's round of argument, 
scolding, singing, and laughter, to knock on the pantry door and 
hand in specimens of their needlework. 

Compared with the famous drawn work of Saba, Tortola's can 
only be called rustic. And since like this other island's it is done 
half for pastime and thus only half professionally, the industry is 
picayune indeed compared with Puerto Rico's. But the surprise of 
finding such things available gave them value: I was a generous 
customer, and could be prices suited my wrinkled wallet to a T. 
To this day, when I carve the roast at home, the juice that flies is 
caught on a carver's cloth of Road Town manufacture. 

It was puzzling to guess how the skill to make this Spanish 
drawn work, and doilies laced intricately within circles of pins 
had taken root; but Mistress Jennings had the explanation. The 
Beef Island planter's lady was the author of it a Belgian who 
had lived in Mexico. While I listened to the story of -her kindliness, 
a new doily showing its pattern on each knee, evening settled 
with equal kindliness on the little town. Pomegranates swung on 
their wiry twigs, crabs sidled up cautiously from their holes, the 
boys could be heard in the distance hollering at their game of 
tops. Very likely old Thornton would have found it hard to 
recognize the place: the island's hero had ridden this way in its 
most prosperous age. But the one street, long since robbed of its 
architecture by storm and riot, looked content in the humbler 
phase, of cabins nestling among broken masonry. 

An island change had come over the needlework, too, no doubt. 
The lacemakers of old Spain or Belgium would probably have 
disowned it. So, likewise, while Chippendale worked that new 
wood, mahogany, that the West Indies were shipping north, 


island cabinetmakers planed away in the belief that they were 
copying Old World models. But unconscious ignorance gave 
them a secret liberty. The four-poster beds and console tables 
that they made had a character that was new. Bolder in form than 
the originals and more peasantlike, they were "Colonial" with a 
tropical difference. Mrs. Rankine's bed at" Blue Hole was the 
epitome of the style. As for Haiti's armchairs, the most comfort- 
able on earth, though they had been copied from a French pro- 
vincial type to begin with, recopying had made them Creole at 
last to their deep straw bottoms. 

But if the skills of these cabinetmakers and needlewomen 
harked back to Europe, basketry carried forward a native trade. 
The islands' most famous baskets, even now, in fact, are made by 
the remnant of the Caribs in Dominica stout, handsome, and 
rainproof to suit the Caribbees' wet climate. 

Palm-leaf bags that close with a flap I had seen were typical 
of Grenada, double lidded arm baskets, of Haiti; as for the pro- 
fusion of shapes that lure tourist money in Nassau, Kingston, or 
Port-au-Prince, they showed what wealth of invention was pos- 
sible to the Negro weavers. And who can remember the grace of 
the hat weavers' hands at work, or the gay way the colored people 
wear their hats, without a pang of homesickness for the palmy 

Then there were boats to think about, while Road Town's 
beacon burned less and less ineffectually in the gathering dusk; 
for in an island world where such craft are a homely common- 
place, their color and shape and rigging take on local flavor. If I 
had guessed at the outset of my journey that every port, almost, 
was to have its nautical peculiarities, I would have kept a record 
of them to systematize on my own island at last, for a chore to 
justify the retired existence. 

But now it was too late to begin. While the tide lapped up 


among the mangroves behind the kitchen, recollection roved back 
to Havana's aquamarine-painted fishing fleet, and to the scoop- 
nosed dugouts of Jamaica, rowed cross-handed because of their 
narrowness Santo Domingo's piraguas, because still slimmer, 
were all the more evidently hollow logs. And then the canoes 
of the Caribbees proper came to mind the Apperly boys' boat 
in Dominica, for instance, with its Carib-style advancing stem, or 
the dugout that Antoine and his friends were making in Gouyave. 

"Antoine and his friends" here very likely was the formula 
to keep an island's industry wholesome. The boats and baskets 
and bedsteads I had been thinking of, and the needlework, were 
made by groups of intimates jabbering at their work, on beach 
or under mango tree, or on galleries like this one of Mistress 

The convent workshops in San Juan were a step removed from 
the ideal, perhaps, but the girls embroidering like mad there had 
their social fun. The Camagiiey saddlers were great singers; and 
the cigar-makers of Havana, busy in high, leaf -scented rooms, 
listened to yellow-backed novels read aloud by their hired readers. 
Only in the sugar mills, where machines made both the racket 
and the sugar, were gossip and improvised variations in technique 
wholly out of place. 

But even cane grinding can be sociable, and Tortola was the 
place to show me this. The mill at Newtown, around the bay, 
was perhaps too primitive, but if the methods used in it were 
laborious, the work done, the shed itself, and the rum that was 
the final product, all were the peasants' own as was also the big 


roisterous party, noisy with conch-shell toots, that marked the 
season's end. 

Housebuilding at Newtown was no less neighborly. Guitar- 
playing well-wishers lay helpfully in the shade, to mix music 
with the concrete; other friends lent a hand in more practical 
effort. And the infant onlookers caught rides to the beach if they 
could (or ran along anyhow) when the colony's one motor 
vehicle, a has-been truck, panted down for sand. 

Tortola's fieldwork I found being done to music: bush clear- 
ing, planting, and yam digging could be a game, it was plain, 
if a group went at it in time with a strong-rhythmed song. The 
solo remarks bawled out with yoohooing chorus of brief reply 
that I stopped to hear on the trail to Brewers' Bay, were for all 
the world like the work songs of the Haitian mountaineers. And 
well might the singers be equally loud lunged. Their forefathers, 
too, had hustled the white landlords from their island: the last 
they saw of them was a comical bottom view as they shinnied over 
a ridge to boats and safety. It was an unsanguinary rout after 
which the hard, self-helpful, African mode of doing things pre- 
vailed, and the colony ceased to be much of a jewel in the British 

Well, I grudged these people nothing. Recollection of Blue 
Hole's hilltop fields meanwhile rose to mind, in whose tillage, 
though it had been allied for two centuries with plantation capi- 
talism, a communal scheme of work full-bloodedly survived. 
Wonder of wonders, the two systems were compatible. These 
more truly free Tortolians, however, were both less obsequious 
and less pert than the plantation tenants. I liked their unself- 
conscious self-respect. 

I also liked the hill world they cultivated. The field-checkered 
slopes up which the path had toiled, smoothed away now into 
turfy uplands. Wind-carved shrubs were massed handsomely 


around huge rocks. Behind me glinted Sir Francis Drake Channel, 
with its far battlement of islands; ahead lay the ocean, with the 
trade wind blowing in. What a day! What a world! I let loose 
a loud yoohoo of my own; but wished, for full kinship with 
the place, that I were in still older and fewer clothes, singing at 
work with my island neighbors. 

At bay level, in another hour, I could still hear the hills' echo- 
ing refrains: from over a shoulder of rock and the high woods 
above, down came the far-off cadence. But there was nearer 
music to catch my ear. Under a tree lolled a minstrel-Uncle 
Remus, with a circle of listeners about him. 

He was an old man named Penn. Where the sickle of beach 
died at the bay's cliff boundary, his boat was moored ready to 
take a load of charcoal. And here the sacked charcoal was, ready 
to be taken. He should have been loading it, I suppose, and 
returning ambitiously to Road Town to nail his profits. Perhaps 
his thought was, however, that he could grow little poorer or 
more tattered if he knocked off for the afternoon, and spun out 
the tales and riddles and ballads of which his old pumpkin of a 
head was so rattling-full. 

At any rate this was what he was doing. Against the beach-top 
almond tree he lounged, wrinkled, leathery, and beaming, with a 
donkey tethered to a low bough at his side. The audience sat on 
the coal sacks, four or five boys and four or five girls, all as tattered 
and merry as himself. 

For a white unknown to join such a party is normally the ruin 
of it. But somehow I joined this one. Was I invisible, for pity's 
sake? No, they shared with me the good time they were having. 
It was as if Haroun al Raschid, in one of his luckiest disguises, 
were learning first-hand what the talk was in the bazaars. 

I hope Haroun better understood low Arabic than I did Mr. 
Penn's Creole English. It was insular to an extreme. The poetry, 


too, ran on into an unbooky French and Spanish that left me even 
more blank, though the children, ignorant but polylingual, kicked 
up their feet higher at these drolleries than any. But Cowper's 
"Wreck of the Royal George" was a relief to die ear; and after 
all I caught a fair part of the ballads about the bad girls of Macoris 
and other ports, which songs' accompaniment he pantomimed on 
an imaginary fiddle. 

No sooner was one song done than the audience called for 
more. Especially the rowdy were in request: these made every- 
body topple off his coal sack, while the donkey, seeming to share 
a taste for the lewd vocabulary, drew his lips back and fell to 

Truth must have it that his bray was little more raucous than 
their pink-mouthed laughter, and Mr. Penn's old voice was the 
reverse of sweet. Yet while I plodded back to Road Town, with 
coal marks like a pair of black sun-glasses worn astern, it all 
seemed musical enough in retrospect. The work songs echoing 
so hauntingly from the fields must also have had their ugliness at 
close hand and stanzas not fit to print. But, far or close, the music 
was graced with authenticity. It had grown out of the place itself 
and was as natural in it, and as unabashed, as the tobacco doves just 
flown up from the path ahead. 

I thought affectionately of the birds; they were sociable like 
good islanders. Tortola did not soar high enough into the blue to 
please the solitaire, that recluse that must have a ferny dew- 
drenched mountain peak of his own to sing on. But having thought 
this, I thought affectionately of him too. Old Thornton, the 
darling of the wittiest New World society of his time, was as 
gregarious as a dove, yet there was something of the solitaire in 
the man. In privacy he wrote Cadmus and designed his capitol. 

The island to keep an eye open for, I judge, is one with a 
pinnacle lonely enough for a solitaire's nest, from which the ocean 
is visible in full immensity. But there must be a snug cove beach 


for the building of our boats, and hedged gardens whose cow 
dung is spaded in to music. And well-worn paths between, of 
course, where the doves flutter up when we come along, then 
settle again to lean against one another, and gurgle, and proceed 
with life's enterprise in company. 



Chapter X. 

at this time that the English are a maritime nation; it is a truth 
accepted with a yawn. Still, one proof of the fact is curious 
enough to bear remark, namely, that several of the things to eat 
and drink that we rfegard as most English are no produce of 
England at all, but of places removed from it by long ships 7 

The port laid down by "thoughtful baronets" is fetched from 
Portugal. Oranges, for marmalade, come from Jaffa or Valencia. 
Tea on its travels to the white tea tables of Albion must cross 
two seas, parts of two oceans, to say nothing of gulfs, bays, and 
other briny items. As for the turtle soup over which aldermen, 
napkin in collar, smack their lips at Mansion House dinners, 
where are the turtles caught to make it? In the Thames? Certainly 
not. They come from the Mosquito Bank off Nicaragua and are 
netted and shipped by the fishermen of Cayman. 

Grand Cayman, on maps, is hard to find unless the adas is large 
and your patience long one speck of British pink on the broad 
blue Caribbean. It arches its seventeen-mile back just a few feet 
above the sea there south of Cuba; an isle of glossy and shimmer- 


ing green leaves, ringed about with the white of surf or whiter 
sands. When I set foot ashore it was a bright March Sabbath 
morning; the almond trees, which celebrate their autumn in that 
month, were towers of green and crimson along the white shore 
lane, while the "Easter lilies" and amaryllises, for which it was 
the spring season, stood in the white-sanded yards in clumps of 
translucent white and scarlet. 

No less shining, white cottages had doors of buff or peacock 
blue; by the picket gates roosters arched their burnished necks, 
crowing brassily in the hot sunshine. Here was the Torrid Zone 
in its purest colors an island made for great calms and heats. 
While we bathed in the glass surges on West Bay Beach, a young 
islander who had befriended me would lift his arm and point 
seaward, to the waterspouts twisting their black ducts from sea 
to sky. He looked a figure out of some old sunburnt myth, point- 
ing to perils that cannot touch enchanted ground. 

"Angelic dynamo! Ventriloquist of the Blue!" burst out Hart 
Crane, remembering Cayman, and trying to describe it in one 
ejaculation. His rhapsody the Caymanians make small pretense of 
fathoming. Their usual visitors are not poets, but gentle ornithol- 
ogists with very little to say, or evangelists who devote their time 
to reporting the existence of another and even brighter world. 
Besides, turtles (and postage stamps) are the Caymanians' concern. 

By agreement between Nicaragua and the British Crown, only 
these islanders have the right to net turtles on the Mosquito Bank. 
Such is the present form of monopoly they established for them- 
selves when the catch in home waters dwindled, and maintained 
a great many years thereafter by dint of hardihood, looking sharp, 
and not being afraid to dare. 

Jamaica, of which Cayman is a dependency, had its heyday in 
the eighteenth century. Those were the times when William 
Beckford, richest of Englishmen, built fantastic castles in the 
wilds of Portugal and wrote Vathek on an income that poured 


in from his Jamaican sugar lands. The planters and governors who 
came and went, and the red-coated fashionable military, took 
home a taste for turtle soup: like the tobacco of America or the 
tea of the East, the Creole luxury was accepted as one of the great 
empire blessings in fact became a British institution. Thus the 
Caymanians, on their outpost near earth's best turtling grounds, 
in time found themselves supplying the meat not only for the 
opulent Jamaican "second breakfasts," but for dinners at Mansion 
House in far-off London. 

In the long pursuit of this one business the islanders have 
learned a great deal about it. The management of their sloops 
and schooners, whose sails continually brighten the western Carib- 
bean, in two hundred years has made them that sea's most respected 
sailors. No yacht cruises the West Indies, people say, without at 
least one Caymanian aboard. Ashore, every boy rigs toy boats and 
expects to follow the sea. Every old man, behind his leathered 
brow, stores the memory of ports and storms and is as likely as 
not to be a retired sea captain. As for the women, they are true 
sailors' wives, who vie in boasting of the superior agonies of their 
various fits of seasickness on trips away from home. 

Ships' carpentry is the island art. Under the almond trees the 
keek are laid, saws buzz, and hard timbers, chosen for their natural 
curvature, are shaped and squared. The Caymanian specialty is a 
catboat, sharp both fore and aft, painted the intensest blue that 
money will buy. This color, the fishermen say, is least soon 
noticed by the turtles, when the boats creep up above them at 
their feeding grounds; but on the still fiercer blue of the island's 
harbor it so dazzled my non-turtle eyes, that the sky in comparison 
looked faded-rosy. 

As for the turtles they net, the Caymanians very well know 
their subsea habits, and how to keep them alive while they are 
being shipped. The women at home are expert in cooking turtle 


My first taste of West Indian green turtle was in the soup form, 
at the old Cheshire Cheese in London, where it cost what is 
euphemistically referred to as a "pretty penny/ 7 More recently, 
in Nassau, I was so lucky as to be invited to dine on baked turtle 
a dish, by the way, made from a recipe of 1774 at the latest, at 
which date Janet Schaw's Journal of a Lady of Quality includes 
it in a West Indian feast. 

The creature itself was not a large one, but provided a great 
event. Soup, really excellent, came first, with the pale green of 
lime slices riding on its darker bosom; next, the beast proper, 
turned bottom up, with its flipper meat in a ring of force-balls 
and an ornate crust of scrolls and ribbons arching where its breast- 
plate once had been. When Mrs. MacAfee, my hostess, plunged 
in her fork, a gust of steam rose, through which I caught a glimpse 
of the black cook's radiant face, peeping from the pantry. 

In Grand Cayman such dainty treatment is thought unworthy 
of a turtle. What! stuff him back in his own shell as if he were 
a crab? Very undignified. Moreover, to bake their turtles entire, 
two hundred pounds of meat and casing, would strain anybody's 
oven* No, the Caymanians butcher their turtles as if they were 
steers. Assorted slices of the meat, with strips of fat and pale 
toothsome tissues, are fetched home from market threaded on 
loops of thatch-palm fiber, to be pot-roasted with tomato, herbs, 
and plenty of pepper. 

It makes a dark and savory dish. When Mrs. Jones, who took 
care of me in Georgetown, set down the platter, it was with a 
thump of satisfaction. Here 'was something. And seating herself 
where she could keep an eye on the chickens and whop the cat 
when he grew too querulous at the door, she would repeat the 
compliments heaped upon her roast turtle by my predecessors. 
It was the new arrival's turn to add quotable remarks, I could see 
that plainly. And since she was a widow who had had a great 
many troubles to bear, there in the little white house among the 


breadfruit and orange trees, I did my best to oblige. The epitaph 
writer was not to be outdone in compliments by any mere 
ornithologist or a parcel of Adventist missionaries.* 

At night, in Georgetown, after the blue catboats had been 
tied to their buoys, and the West Indian nightingale, teetering in 
an orange tree, had said its last melodious say, the moon would 
begin to shine in a queenly style, and the white roads that wound 
narrowly among the fruit groves looked whiter than ever. 

On one such night I walked out to Captain Panton Thompson's. 
The Sunday previous I had seen him ride in to church on his 
pony, with a hymnbook under his arm and a straw hat set to a 
geometrically precise horizontal atop his gray head. We had 
become acquainted then, exchanged views on international poli- 
tics, and he had asked me to dinner at Linnhirst Avenue, his 
little estate, giving me directions as to how to reach it. 

This proposed venture threw Mrs. Jones into a fever of anxiety. 
How could she trust me to find my way on so large an island? 
It was like praising her^turtle over again; I had to be profuse, 
extensive, and superlative in my promises to turn back if I found 
myself bewildered, before she would let me go. And then, foot- 
ing it straight ahead down quite the right road, whistling in the 

* Cayman, by the way, is a rock-ribbed stronghold of Presbyterianism, not easy 
to undermine. Perhaps the stranded mariners who were its earliest settlers were 
.Scotchmen, as in the case of Calabash Bay. Worthy of note here, too, is the fact 
that those other ancient white communities more extraordinary because English- 
speaking in Latin America the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras, have 
Caymanian names attached to two of the principal families, viz: Sodden and Kirk- 


moonlight, I was overtaken by a guide she had sent after me on 
a bicycle. 

This proved to be none other than Miss Hilary Thompson, the 
captain's daughter. She hopped off her steed and (to explain 
myself in a gruff way) was a welcome adjunct to the moonlight 
walk. I had never heard of a girl named Hilary before; she had 
a charm and humor that well suited the pretty oddness of the 
name. As for Americans, they are not commonly met with on 
the Caymanian roads. Thus, as we trudged ahead through moon- 
cast shadows of naseberry and shaddock trees, or past paddocks 
where cattle munched in the moonlit guinea grass, we had reason 
to look upon each other as beings out of the ordinary. 

The captain we found with his shoes off. The night was hot, 
and long years of command have accustomed him to independence 
of the world's opinion. Dinner, too, was not turtle but fish. But we 
talked turtle, as is inevitable in Cayman, after we had argued out 
the probable fate of the British Empire. And then no less in- 
evitably on that island we talked postage stamps. Miss Hilary, at 
the magic words, fetched down her album. 

On the subject of postage stamps I am not really batty. When 
aged twelve I had an album with G. Smith, the Stamping Man in 
large letters on the flyleaf, and pasted in it as many kings, queens, 
and presidents as I could get for nothing. To this day, in fact, I 
enjoy inserting the bright bits of paper which innocent fun, so 
Max Beerbohm says, is the basis of the philatelic frenzy. But 
luckily I have gone no farther, nor has Miss Hilary. To her and 
her father, however, stamps mean more than they can to me, 
because they are Cayman Islanders. 

To the Caymanians, a new series of island stamps is as great a 
matter of anxiety as a college revue is to the club that gives it. 
Heaven be propitious! will it, will it be a hit? In these obscure 
places where stamps bought for actual use are few, the big post 
office customers are the dealers of the outside world, and the 


million collectors for whom they buy. In 1937, for example 
the year of my visit these helpful foreigners, spontaneously and 
without a hint of growling, paid two thirds of island government 
expenses. The gay-hued pictures of conchs and catboats, booby 
birds, and turtles, had taken the small boys' and the old boys' eyes 
the wide world over. No dealer could get enough of them. No hot 
cakes ever sold faster. 

The chief business in a Caymanian post office, thus, is the post- 
marking of empty envelopes plastered with these philatelic hot 
cakes. The postmaster of Georgetown spoke with a sigh of the 
forthcoming coronation series, and of how on the day of issue he 
would have a hundred and thirty thousand stamps to postmark 
legibly with that historic date. All bogus mail, too, as usual At 
Cayman Brae a bottle of liniment stood on the shelf ready for 
the same ordeal's cramps and pains; and after it, the Thompsons 
both agreed, the staff would certainly deserve to be treated to a 
midnight turtle supper. 

These Arcadian fiscal wonders set a bee to buzzing in my cap. 
Here was an easy and harmless means of financing my island. No 
stamps would spot the world's albums with gaudier reds and blues 
than mine, and for an added lure why not issue a series of bath- 
ing beauties? A nude or two, such as the Spanish Republic risked, 
no doubt would keep the higher denominations "moving" . . . 

But thought so guilty mantled me in a blush. Luckily the moon- 
light did not reveal this: we had come out to inspect Miss Hilary's 
garden, with a flashlight to give her roses their daylight colors 
one by one. She grew balsams, too, gayer than the penny-ha'penny 
stamps that are the islands' gayest. Then alone on the white road 
again, resolving to send off a bushel of post cards, each with that 
rarity on it, an actually used Cayman Islands stamp, I tramped 
back to town. 

On the "next Cimboco" the bushel and I sailed off together to 
the outside world The mail boat's chief cargo was not postage 


stamps, however, but turtles. Two hundred and twelve of them 
there were, broader than washtubs, making the trip to Kingston 

with me. 

What a smell! sickly sweet, as if designed to give the Cayman- 
ian women passengers new seasick pangs to boast of. As for 
myself, the safest place aboard was well forward where the breeze 
blew fresh. Stretched out on a heap of sail there, with the gold 
teeth of a sailor flashing over me as he talked contemptuously of 
the turtles of Galapagos and Costa Rica which are caught 
ashore, lean from the laying of their eggs I could look down 
the hatch at ours, netted at sea while fat and luscious. Tier on 
tier they lay, all upside down. With their pale front flippers 
crossed in resignation on their pale bosoms, they looked like a 
sleeping ward of lawn-sleeved bishops. 

At Kingston, however, where they were hoisted up, weighed, 
and transshipped in a great hurry to turtle-hungry London and 
New York, this air of resignation was cast off. Our bishops hissed, 
snapped their jaws, and brandished their hind flippers in an awful 
fashion. The future they had a right to dread, Their present dis- 
comfort no onlooker could but commiserate. 

All the same, they were being treated with more consideration 
than I was, in a way, or those dear articles of isknd commerce, 
the postage stamps. While we (apologetically) were kept waiting, 
they went ashore, two hundred and twelve strong, one at a time. 
The Caymanians value their postal receipts, and love nothing 
better than welcoming visitors to their islands. But business is 
business after all, and turtles are turtles. 


Chapter XL 


there/' said Melby, "mentioned in Treasure Island.' 9 

Several people had pointed it out already; however, I gazed 
with interest at this coffin-like Caja de Muertos projecting from 
the sea. "It used to be a puzzle/' I sighed, "to imagine how fifteen 
men could sit on one man's chest. I thought it meant his bosom. 
But your island here is big enough to hold even more marooned 
pirates than that." 

" Drink and the devil had done for the rest,' " chanted Melby 
over the roar of the wheels: it was payday in the great sugar 
district on the south coast of Puerto Rico, and this was the pay 
car, a Ford with steel wheels to ride the railroad tracks. 

To the north the mountains, green and tawny, slowly moved 
past us; to the south the blue Caribbean did the same. Between, 
and with our rails down the middle of it, was irrigated cane land; 
now and again we passed a disused sugar mill, its pipes and boilers 
exposed like an anatomical exhibit, or more rarely the tall chim- 
neys and huge bulk of a central that had supplanted these earlier 
units. But our business was not with the mills. Melby was paying 
the right-of-way maintenance crews, road crews, and ditch 

Periodically we would stop for the purpose. The roar of the 
wheels would lessen; quiet would descend about us on the cany 


landscape. This gave my host a chance to say something without 
straining his voice, and so I heard how the ditch cleaners some- 
times trod on snails and cut themselves, or perhaps it would be 
the children swimming in the canals. Result: elephantiasis, with 
arm or leg swollen as stiff as a fence post. "They will do it," he 

And having got on the topic of unreasonableness, Melby went 
on to tell how the laborers celebrate their release from toil joy- 
ously when the cane-grinding season ends. "You'd think they'd 
celebrate the beginning of it!" he protested, " they need their 
wages bad enough!" He was a Yankee, which made such remarks 
seem more natural than the glib Spanish occasionally unloosed 
for the benefit of his assistant on the back seat. 

But the striking thing about that morning's talk was what it 
failed to include. The general silence was only deepened by it. 
Mute as fish the laborers would drop their tools, assemble, and 
take the cash doled out by the little less mute assistant. If neces- 
sary, a question was put or a report was made. Then Melby 
would start his car, and while the men looked at the good Amer- 
ican money in their hands we rolled away. 

After one such frolic, as I was about to ask if nobody knew 
any jokes, Melby shouted an inquiry: So-and-so, the week before, 
had been stung by a centipede was he feeling all right again? 

This specimen of humanity seemed hopeful. "In Jamaica, a 
while back," I ventured, "I stayed at a plantation, and when we 
went riding the darkys would skip to open a gate if they saw us 
coming. But here, the other .night when the superintendent was 
showing me around, the men lounging beside a gate let me hop out 
to open it. It seemed surprising." 

"You don't understand," said Melby. "These little brown fel- 
lows are American citizens and our equals. Why abase themselves 
before their boss?" 


"But don't they like him?" I persisted. "I like him so much. 
Or doesn't he like them? Is that what's the matter?" 

" 'How's the wife and kids, my man?! is that what you think 
we need?" countered Melby. "Holy Christopher! and with such 
an army! " 

"Well, somebody should try to tell the privates apart, no 
matter how big the army," I barked. "Napoleon did pretty well 
with his/' For all their hurry, the paymasters in my own experi- 
ence had managed to infuse payday with sociability, and layoffs 
with some regret. "And how about it," I went on, "have you 
made any safe bathing places in these shack villages we've been 
seeing, to keep the kids out of the canals?" 

As it happened, however, (I'm glad to say) the query did not 
occur to me then, nor even when the two of us dived into the 
sky-blue pool reserved for the central's executives. We parted in 
amity. Two nights later it was that I tossed in bed hour after 
hour, reducing him to a pulp with imaginary sharp talk of the 
kind. This was in Ponce, after I had strayed into the slums that 
environ the old aqueduct. 

Ponce, like most cities, has two faces. Its plaza is as agreeable 
a civic center as heart could wish. One end of it is open and tree- 
ringed for fiesta booths, band concerts, and poetry recitations. 
The other is a maze of bosky paths, with benches, fountains 
asquirt, and statuary a place made for more private music and 
poetry of the handholding sort. Between, and pleasant too, is the 
cathedral; with a stagelike fire barn built against its back, in which 
the red-shirted bomberos entertain lady friends of an evening 
while the adjoining cafes pour out Cuban rumbas. 

What took my eye most, however, was the high school young- 
sters who streamed by in the afternoons. They were beings of 
exceptional beauty. 

A benign decree had put all the girls in honey-colored shirt- 
waists and brown pleated skirts, which simplicity brought out 


the gracefulness of their carriage and the brunette fineness of their 
complexion. The wide smooth brows of those Ponce girls, be- 
tween hair brushed back in lustrous dark wave above and large 
dark eyes below, were made, obviously, to be kissed. As for the 
boys, they looked ready to enjoy the treat downy-moustached, 
flex-jointed, prankish Latins. 

Shantytown was another study. 

For a sample household, here was one in a piano crate that had 
been pieced out ingeniously with the bottoms from several old 
tubs. Under the roof hung a row of small dresses, brand-new 
and all alike the kind bought in the North, as shoppers brag, 
for next to nothing. The housewife was making one more as fast 
as she could, while her own daughters, not much larger than the 
American tots she was sewing for, climbed the hill cheerfully in 
shirttails, with tins of water on their heads. 

Not that Puerto Rican needlework is to be shunned as the 
produce of scenes of squalor. Much of it comes from the con- 
vents and new-built factories. And if the chief marvel of shanty- 
town^ part of it is its cheapness, the second is the cleanliness that 
is somehow .maintained. Straining her eyes out at work after sun- 
set, the seamstress still has energy to keep the pig and chickens 
where they belong and to cleanse the premises with water fetched 
by hand. 

But the hard thing about hard bargains is, that what we gain 
by them somebody else must lose: here was a proverb soon 
worded while I tossed in bed after a too-good late supper of 
Mallorquine spinach pie, with nuts, meat cubes, and raisins in it. 
God bless the Hotel Melia's cook and his recipes from kitchen- 
wise Mallorca! The plutocrat with the bellyache blamed not him 
nor them for his insomnia, but lavished his ire on Melby. I felt 
for the exploited ones of the isles. And like a pageant through 
the mosquito net, the story of their exploitation passed fitfully, to 



illustrate the harangue with which I nonplussed my poor absent 

For wealth was what Columbus had come for, and sure enough, 
a little gold was found in Santo Domingo for a preliminary delu- 
sion. The first New World news was of gums and spices, nuggets 
big enough to roast a pig in, and the pearls of Cubagua also of a 
ready supply of naked and submissive natives for miners, divers, 
and concubines. 

With such word flying from tongue to tongue, the West Indies 
became the original Wild West. Earth's dread outmost bound, 
the Atlantic, suddenly beckoned like the road to riches. For the 
type of adventurer that packed off at once, Balboa will do: to 
reach his peak in Darien and immortality, but first and foremost 
to elude his creditors, he absconded from Santo Domingo as a 
stowaway in a barrel. 

But the New World was by no means immediately profitable. 
Columbus's "chewing gum" proved not to be mastic after all. 
Pineapples, the first American produce to ravish the palate of 
Europeans, could not be shipped. As for minerals, the island 
resource of gold was meager; coarse metals such as the iron of 
Daiquiri in Cuba could be had more easily at home. The asphalt 
of Trinidad had to wait for Sir Walter Raleigh for a discoverer; 
and the petroleum that makes the same island a chief source of 
all-British oil was a blessing even less appreciated than chewing 
gum four centuries ago. 

Kong Ferdinand, meanwhile, was pinched for funds. The recent 
expulsion from his country of the Moors and Jews, despiite the 


confiscation of wealth that had made it seem so happy an idea, 
had lost for him his best taxable and wealth producing groups. 
The outstanding citizens now were veterans, harping on what 
was owed them for their part in the Moorish wars. If the New 
World was poor in quick profits, at least it was rich in land: to 
the pests, if they would take it, he gave estates in Hispaniola, 
Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Jamaica, meted out by the montdn. 

The monton was a cassava hill, as if we should measure farms 
by the potato hill; an estate of 100,000 montones, called a peonia, 
was the portion of an infantryman or peon from the name of 
which type of estate our word "peon" is re-derived. The first 
peons were the natives of Hispaniola, for the king kindly be- 
stowed with each grant of land the Indians needed for its cultiva- 

To the islanders all this must have been perplexing and hateful, 
as I pointed out to Melby; capitalism was installed suddenly with 
them as the base. After the communal life, with labor shared and 
fitted to primary needs only, it was killing to be set to the drudgery 
of creating cash wealth for others. And killed they were, actually, 
by the process. 

So perished the Arawaks of the Greater Antilles, while I rolled 
over once more and turned the pillows hot side down. The Caribs 
by trouncing Ponce de Le6n in Guadeloupe earned a final cen- 
tury of the old ways for their Lesser Antilles; but the Bahamian 
natives, Columbus's committee of welcome, were enslaved and 
exterminated in entirety. I treated Melby to several gruesome in- 

But presently, in those old days, when Mexico and Peru turned 
out to be the bonanzas for which everybody had been looking, 
Spain's interest in her islands, as Max Beerbohm would say, de- 
clined by leaps and bounds. They were left to wallow in neglect. 
Various lessons had been learned there, to be sure, during the 
first lively years for example, the delights of tobacco. Sugar, a 


luxury formerly very rare (honey had been the world's sweeten- 
ing) , was found to grow at a touch, almost, in these benign tropics. 
At the touch, that is, of forced labor* 

Spain herself, meanwhile, purse bursting with easy money, no 
longer bothered to be productive. The rich can always afford to 
buy. But it is hard to stay rich, and presently Spain was not doing 
so. As through a millrace her money drained off to the Northern 
powers, her purveyors and brokers. By the middle of the seven- 
teenth century, in fact, England, France, and Holland were ripe 
to invest in colonial ventures of their own. Impudently they grew 
sugar, indigo, and tobacco on the smaller of Spain's West Indian 
islands, and encouraged the buccaneers to throttle her transoceanic 


Poor Puerto Rico, in consequence of all this, was all but cut off 
from the mother country. Those colonials who had not pulled up 
stakes, the Indians still remaining, and slaves escaped from the 
mercantile break-back of St. Thomas, had to work put their own 
insular salvation. And while they were at it, in long-enforced 
privacy, they began to merge into what has become a people 
singularly homogeneous, to judge by New World standards. 

Here guitar music from the street stole up to give their identity 
deeper meaning. The faces of the Ponce schoolgirls haunted my 
mosquito net, and another girl's seen dimly on the Yauco road: a 
heart-of-man vine poured down its scent from the eaves over her 
head, while her sweetheart, jaunty in a new straw hat, leaned on 
the gate to thrum his guitar and sing in half-voice as this late 
stroller was singing now. 

A poor shack that had been, as usual, with tree frogs chirping 
their clear octaves in its loops of vines. And here the face of the 
aqueduct seamstress haunted me instead, and her bravely make- 
shift house; I saw the merry brown tots being put to sleep four 
in a bed in rickety La Perla, and Melby's ditch crews looking at 

* One large island, Jamaica, was seized by England in Cromwell's time. Admiral 
Penn, Pepyrc friend and William's father, was the hero of the raid. 


their money. Whereupon, of course, here we were riding along 
in the pay car as before and I continuing the lecture. 

For if Spain's methods in the isles were unexemplary, so were 
the Northerners'. The Caribs, it was soothing to remind Melby 
never enslaved but soon edged out at least had the comfort of 
watching the interlopers kill one another. St. Kitts, for one fertile 
island, changed hands in so many patriotic cat-and-dog fights that 
the monotony of the story sets a man to yawning. Tobago was 
even held on occasion by the Baltic Latvians. 

But in spite of these acrimonies and butcheries and hauling up 
and down of flags, sugar made Frenchmen and Englishmen mil- 
lionaires. The stateliest of Dutch mansions were founded on 
tobacco profits; on the slave trade Liverpool and Bordeaux grew 
great and rich. 

The North-held islands, in fact, were such money-makers that 
at the end of the Seven Years' War it was a study for Britain to 
decide whether she should take Guadeloupe or Canada for her 
spoils. Benjamin Franklin urged Canada, and such was finally the 
choice; which loss the French accepted with a shrug. "A few 
acres of snow," Voltaire called the place; whereas Guadeloupe, 
saved for France, brought in solid sugar profits and beans from 
that rich orchid, the vanilla. 

But the great value of the Northerners' West Indies faded at 
the terrible news that sugar could be extracted from a beet. Island 
economy had to adjust itself to a low or at best an ordinary income. 
Only mainland abnormalities revive the old fabulous earning 
power Venezuela's political freaks, for instance, which have 
made it prudent to refine that country's oil in Curasao and Aruba; 
or Prohibition; or some World War or other to boost sugar's 
sagging price. 

But here about me while I stared into the top of the mosquito 
net, the old order seemed still to be in force. Puerto Rico, and 
Cuba like it, had come to commercial eminence a century later 
than the other islands. Until the Spanish-American War the 


147 EASY MO 

North had not had much chance to bring in progress. These 
sugar lands were being worked under the expert eye of outsiders 
who had come down not to live but to earn. The profits too, and 
the product, were destined for outsiders mainly. 

That these people were a fine lot and used their money well, 
who could be readier to grant than I? They were of my own 
class and country. But the planters of the old regime likewise 
thought kindly of themselves. Slavery seemed natural or even 
scriptural to them, as our systems seem moral and natural to us. 

The test was, perhaps that is, for me (and here my reflections 
started to dissolve and presently I went to sleep) should my 
island's economy be up-to-date, with some wages at least in every- 
body's pocket, or was old slavery the thing at its mellowest, of 
course, as in an operetta? Postal sales might pay for such luxuries 
as books and lamp oil, but real work would have to be done by 
somebody, to provide shelter and good food. Perhaps Blue Hole's 
kind landlord-tenant relationship was the ticket, with its invidious 
distinctions in my favor. Or maybe not. For the memory of 
peasant-owned places now came to mind, Tortola, Carriacou, 
Calabash Bay, and the like toilsome, poor, nobody's bonanza 
and the feeling of happiness that came with it made me suspect 
that they were happiest of any. 


But it is hard to define the base on which happiness is most 
secure. People well-off according to my notion frequently repine, 
whereas others entitled to grumble radiate good cheer. Certainly 
the bus load of poor Puerto Ricans with whom I rode across the 
island to Arecibo next morning was full of fun. The conductor's 
shirt-tail got pulled out, he rumpled the passengers' hair in venge- 
ance, and rang up fares in fancy rhythms. 

Even if we had begun the trip unsociably its thrills would soon 
have thawed all reserve. Puerto Rico's road system is the West 
Indies* most complete, and from the trees that beautify it, mile 
on mile, bus riders are very often bounced to eternal bliss. Crosses 
are nailed up for a memorial to these events, and as they flashed 
by I realized how cheap life is in overcrowded places. Or perhaps 
our driver depended too much on a holy medal, glued piously on 
the windshield. From an S-curve ahead in the mountain road his 
attention wandered to the lunch pail at his feet: what had wifey 
prepared this time for his noon surprise? 

The inquiry was cut short by a screech from the women passen- 
gers. On two wheels we were skirting eternity's deep brink. "Mi 
madre!" he prayed, wrenching away from that peril into the path 
of another bus roaring down upon us from uphill. But, the devil 
take it! now the pail lid was in danger of rolling out. Should he 
save it or save us all? 

By a miracle he did both. As the busses passed each other on 
die wrong side, a terrific eddy of air turned up every turned-down 
hatbrim. It was very comical. 

"I was in an auto accident once in Maine," said the man beside 
me, turning his hatbrim down again. He was a Mallorquine, but 
had gone to Maine to open a shoe factory and get rich. The win- 
ters and the New England conscience had proved gruelling, how- 
ever; there was the accident and finally a bankruptcy. In a word, 
he had settled in Puerto Rico to sell shoes made by someone else. 


"And sales are pretty good, too," he beamed. It was a place with 

"In Anguilla, now . . ." he went on, which made me prick up 
my ears: here was an island I had not managed to visit. But he 
had a grudge against Anguilla. It was the reverse of Puerto Rico, 
poor in cash. The people fished and grew yams; the only wages 
in anybody's pocket were earned by transients who went else- 
where for them. 

"Too much barefoot!" he complained. "However, I go over 
about once a year. A man over there is a friend of mine. He likes 
Anguilla and don't worry how many buttons are off his pants. 
'Slick up!' I used to tell him, 'you're getting seedy/ 'Well,' he'd 
say, 'when I have a wife she'll keep me neat.' And what should 
he do one day but get engaged. She was a high-class young Boston 
lady; life, now, was going to be very different. But while he was 
impatiently waiting for his bride at St. Kitts, all at once he married 
an island girl instead, as if he had guessed that he didn't want his 
life changed so much after all, and needed a safeguard in a hurry. 
Of course he radioed the young Boston lady and told her not to 
bother to get off the ship, but she did anyhow, for the afternoon; 
she borrowed a machete to cut up the wedding cake she had 
brought, covered with truelove knots and cupids, and made a great 
show of handing the pieces around to the foreshore bums. What 
publicity! Unforgettable!" 

"Never trifle with a Boston girl," I smirked, like a burnt child 
who knows all about fires. Overhead on the mountain slope the 
coffee bushes looked to be freshly dipped in wax as usual, and the 
sword plants in the mountaineers' dooryards were decked out 
curiously with blown eggshells, leaf by leaf. 

"There you have it!" Senor Guasp exclaimed. "In Anguilla it 
is yams and peas; in Puerto Rico eggshells put out for a garden. 
These people here buy what they eat, rice and beans and codfish. 
They keep cash in circulation and a salesman has a chance to pick 


some up. But look ahead, now!" he cried; "A noble view of my 
new home city!" for beyond the plain's green cane fields and the 
loops of a loitering river, stood Arecibo, solid-built on a tongue 
of higher ground by the sea. 

"You will stay at the Grand," said Senor Guasp dogmatically 
as we rode into town. "We do not have a cook from Mallorca 
there, alas, and the waiters join us in our table talk and help them- 
selves to toothpicks; but you will get your fill of good Puerto 
Rican food." 

Lunch was indeed a prodigy. Item one in it was a sopa de sub- 
stancia^ next came two soft-boiled eggs; third, codfish fritters, 
and minute-fish fried with an astute touch of garlic. The entree 
course was very extensive: beefsteak and onions with braised 
potatoes and side dishes of pink yam, white peas, boiled plantain, 
hominy cakes, cabbage seasoned with sausage slices, and a gen- 
erous salad. When a half fried chicken followed this, I gave Senor 
Guasp what must have been a speaking look: he burst into an 
explosion of laughter and wagging his finger fanwise, cried, "My 
young friend, the heart of a real Puerto Rican lunch is yet to 
come!" And sure enough, the "rice-and-beans" was brought in 

Having kept up thus far, Mr. Stuffing resolved to fight through 
to the end. Seizing the ladle I heaped red beans and sauce on my 
heap of rice, poured olive oil recklessly over all, and stirred. And 
into me the excellent mixture went, on top of the chicken, the 
beefsteak, the fish, the eggs, and the soup of substance. Then 
from the kitchen, where a red brick stove loomed altar-like, 
Juancho came on the skip with a slab of egg custard in a lake of 
syrup. I ate that too and drank my coffee. 

Supper did not quite rival lunch; still, it was a cornucopia of 
victuals. After the coffee Senor Guasp helped me to rise and led 
me out to stroll the plaza like a good Latin. 

"Rice-and-beans," he mused, lighting a cigar, ". . . there is 


the national dish. And in Santo Domingo too. Not everybody 
eats at the Grand; for the poor, rice-and-beans makes the whole 
meal. It starves the island. But the annatto they use to color the 
rice, like their fathers used saffron in Spain, is full of the vita- 
mins they need the worst. God is kind, giving them medicine 
when they think they are just making their rice more pretty." 

There was nothing for it; I had to belch. 

"A great future for West Indian annatto!" cried Senor Guasp, 
unperturbed, and paused to lose himself in the grandeur of his 
vision. "As good as cod-liver oil, but no taste. . . . My, oh my!" 
he went on in a sorrowful whisper, "if I had not been born too 
soon to promote it!" And touching the finger tips of one hand 
to his lips, he seemed to draw out a lost promise of things inexpres- 

Then remembering opportunities missed because he was born 
too late, "Or think of the money made here, in the old times, in 
pockwood!" he exclaimed. "Magnificent!" And while the chil- 
dren on roller skates screamed about us and the Chiclet sellers 
chanted their sad evening cries, he instructed me in a matter about 
which I knew as much as he did: how the great pox that swept 
like a prairie fire through Europe after Columbus's first voyage, 
was assumed to have been brought back by his sailors;* and the 
cure was thought to have been found in West Indian pockwood, 
that is, lignum vitae. In Tortola I had visited an estate called 
Pockwood Pond, where iron-hard stumps still clung to the soil 
for a monument to the syphilitics' old delusion. 

"Worthless!" Senor Guasp went on, blowing a blast of cigar 
smoke. "Yet it made people rich! Money came easy in the islands 
once. Think what the women could get from one pirate in one 
night! What a privilege! But nobody makes money Eke that now, 

* This question is still moot. But the defense of America has been undertaken by 
R. C. Holcomb, Capt. Med. Corps U.S.N. (retired) with (to my mind) dazzling 
scholarship and success. 


here; no, not even your sugar friends. It's a penny at a time, not 
barrels of gold; business is good if they just come in steady." 

But my brain, sluggish with too much feeding,- had not got 
back yet from Pockwood Pond. This talk of island earnings re- 
minded me of an account book shown me by a Tortola man. The 
poetry entered first in it was what Captain Norman had wanted 
me to see; but his ballads of shipwreck and haunted hills led on 
into lists of rosin and lanyards, cases of brandy fetched from 
St. Kitts, fish, mahogany card tables, and sums "Loaned to X to 
pay to someone" the business records of a sloop humbly plying 
back channels from which white-man enterprise long since had 

"Just like Anguilla!" cried Senor Guasp. "No place for a sales- 
man! Since the white people moved out, who puts any money 
in their pants? In Tortola your big-shot captain wears overalls, 
I bet." 

It was true. And my tale of the cane grinding at Newtown mill 
made him shrug with still more eloquence. The conch-shell blow- 
ing to celebrate labor's end there, was as absurd to him as the 
parallel doings in Puerto Rico were to Melby. There seemed 
small point in arguing that in the Golden Age, the tritons had 
blown exactly such shell toots and boops as these without thought 
of pay checks or even the pants to put pay in. 

Yes, softhead that I am, when Captain Norman took me to 
Peters Island in the Pelicanus, and the millhands' shell music fol- 
lowed us across, it only occurred to me to admire its cheapness. 
The instruments used cost no more than the wind to blow them 
or the wind that so steadily filled our sails. 

As for the Peters Islanders into whose world we thus antiquely 
sailed, they too lived near the beginning place of human endeavor, 
grubbing the ground a little, taking God's bounty from the sea 
in nets, or sitting dreamily on their cabin thresholds. From over 
their heads the oleanders poured down a drowsy scent that after- 


noon; laughter was quiet, smiles slow-coming as if deep from 
within, white skirts drooped in simple folds, old hands were folded 
over old knees. 

But when the bonito fish run, as they did in the Bight that day, 
and the hill watcher calls down his signal, the islanders wake to 
action like a carved frieze come to life. The women and men alike 
take places at the lines, the children beat the shallows on either 
side, and steadily the net is drawn in, against a weight of brine 
and fish that my helping hand very soon learned was heavy. 

"Old time ways of doing things," sighed Captain Norman, 
while he showed me the path to Dead Man's Bay. "Old as 
Egypt. . . . Always bonito in the Bight, here, plenty, plenty: 
an up-to-date fishery could make some money." 

"But the bonito," I faltered, "could they stand it? Which do 
these people need more, cash or fish?" 

"We live happy," replied the captain, "happy and long"; and 
his overalls flapped in the dune wind as he gazed down to where 
the waves came rushing. "But if we're to have more than plain fish 
we need money, eh? Maybe a man could dig some up, here: 
'Dead Man's Bay' is a pirate name. And that oblong rock out 
yonder," he added, "is the Dead Man's Chest you read about in 
Treasure Island" 

"But ..." I began; but why expostulate? "There's nothing 
I'd enjoy more," I agreed, "than to dig up treasure. And if ever I 
have an island of my own," I went on, "I'll bury some, to let the 
children find it. For hopscotch playing for little girls, there's 
nothing that tosses better than a silver dollar." 

By way of comment, when I quoted this fine peroration, Senor 
Guasp at first eloquently said nothing. However, "You have the 
superior mind and look down on riches," he remarked after we 
had made another turn. "The hurry to get rich at other people's 
expense is bad, very bad . . * exploitation, as you call it. But," 
he added abruptly, "when you write up your host Mr. Melby in 


your book and get pay for doing it, what will he call that kind 
of business?" 

"The name can be changed to Jones," I retorted, miffed by 
the injustice of his implication; and soon went off to stroll by 
myself in a less noisy part of town. Seiior Guasp was a well- 
meaning man, but his mercantile point of view was tiresome. 


Chapter XII. 

pigheadedness of mankind puts me in a huff, my nature is essen- 
tially pacific. The last fight settled by out-and-out force in Smith 
annals took place when I was aged five; on which occasion, for a 
decisive quietus, I brought down a train of toy iron railway cars 
on my small opponent's head. Bottom up, afterward, and being 
spanked with a hairbrush, I learned the bitterness of the fruits of 
victory. It was on, you would say, rather than at my mother's 
knee that I imbibed those principles that have since guided me in 
the more subtly victorious ways of peace. 

In these later times, however, when no place is too inoffensive, 
useless, or remote to be bombed by the advocates of this or that 
brand of political uplift, it is a puzzle to know how to safeguard 
an island. All I have done thus far, frankly, toward the defense 
of mine, is to hope that it will be overlooked, and to lay by a 
white flag for a quick answer to bomb one. Peace, with all its 
inconveniences, as William Penn wittily said, is generally prefer- 
able to war, and specifically so in this case where heroism wouldn't 
be worth a flip. 

But small islands have been successfully peaceable in the past; 
three such in the West Indies rose to a greatness in the role all 
out of proportion to their flyspeck size. Dutch Statia, Danish St. 
Thomas, and Swedish St. Barts once made as handsome a good 


thing of neutrality in the New World as their parent countries 
did in Europe: these "golden rocks" were like the Jews of the 
islands in the bonanza years the stable element at the center of 
the whirlwind. With sighs of patience and snorts of contempt 
they watched the gunfire and bloodshed and swift changes of 
flags and governments about them and the Jews and the three 
ports alike traded discreetly, international-mindedly, and profit- 
ably with all. 

Of the three ports, Statia* has the most instructive story. Just 
when most useful, its badge of neutrality was nipped off, with 
consequences prompt and dismal. 

The island itself is a pair of volcanic cones with a saddle of 
ragged hill between. One cone is old and shattered, the other an 
upstanding youngster. When you come toward them (a Dutch 
steamer patriotically does call, ballasted with sea water since there 
is never a cargo), the forgotten city on their joint lap is slowly 
revealed. Some of the red roofs, to be sure, prove to be blossoming 
flamboyant trees, the massive black church tower on the high 
cliff edge stands at the head of a roofless ruin, and the quays are 
choked in poisonous manchineel. But a city there is, with amiable 
dogs of squat Dutch build frisking on the flagstone streets, and 
people who celebrate the mail boat's monthly night in port with 
a dance. 

The smuggling trade, to the old Spanish mainland whose ports 
were closed officially to all but Spanish goods, gave Statia a long 
prosperity. But its golden age coincided with our Revolution. 
England was at odds with France at the time, as well as with the 
colonies: Atlantic shipping was bedeviled. Military stores, how- 
ever, as well as civil necessities, could be consigned safely to the 
neutral port, to be picked up there by vessels from Philadelphia 
or New England. Danger of loss by confiscation was reduced, 

* Statia, on maps, is "St. Eustatius," St. Barts is "St. Barthdiemy," but the shorter 
names are the ones most generally heard in the islands. The similar nickname "St. 
Kitts" (for St. Christopher) has long had official standing. 


say, by half. Little Statia, in fact, was one of the chief arteries 
through which the infant republic drew its lifeblood, and if it 
grew rich at the mercenary calling, no good American can 

Trade was enormous. The shore warehouses bulged with quick- 
moving goods. In their black-towered church the Dutch mer- 
chants heartily gave thanks for profits received, while the Jews, 
in a synagogue a few streets distant, reviewed King Solomon's 
sensible maxims, grateful for the opportunity Jehovah had vouch- 
safed them of assisting America to win its freedom. 

At Statia it was that the "Grand Union" the original, pre- 
Betsy Ross American flag was given its first recognition. Flying 
this rebel banner, a vessel entered to pick up a cargo of arms, 
whereupon Governor de Graef, spyglass to eye in old Fort 
Orange, ordered a salute. He was an impetuous soul, who soon 
had to be recalled to Amsterdam. For St. Kitts is Statia's very 
close neighbor and the British governor there, when he learned 
what had been done, first grew purple, then wrote a report that 
made London no less apoplectic. And not yet, in 1776, was 
Holland ready to abandon the advantageous neutral role. 

By 1780, however, Britain had not a friend in sight. The empire 
seemed doomed to a speedy dissolution. Now was the time at 
which to recognize the United States and in a bold burst Holland 
did so. 

Squash! There was life in the British lion after all: down came 
a heavy paw on Statia. Admiral Rodney took the island, but kept 
the Dutch flag flying over it as long as it served to lure in enemy 
ships. If Fort Orange had chosen to honor the rebel flag, its own 
could very nicely be put to dishonorable uses. 

This was the end of Statia. Its fort still stands and cannon are 
still mounted on its palmy ramparts. But they are toys out of a 
past age, used by bkck urchins for hobbyhorses. No Dutch 
prayers have been said in the Dutch church these many years, 



nor has a Jew worn his shawl in the old synagogue * The bush- 
choked warehouses from which Rodney sold fifteen million dol- 
lars worth of goods, are ruins whose walls the sea slaps derisively. 

St. Thomas's story is more of a comfort. The two and a half 
centuries of its Danish rule were marked by a consistent and well- 
paid peacefulness. 

The brightest chapter came in the era of the privateers. Here 
was one port where ships seized and merchandise confiscated 
found a market with no questions asked. Like Statia, it also served 
the smugglers and American patriots as an important depot of 
supply. In fact it was anybody's port to use, a free port, a neutral 
port, and as cosmopolitan, crowded, and active a port as the 
world of those days had to show. 

So long-continuing a role has given the place a character. Busi- 
ness is its business. If it were not for the French recent comers 
from St. Barts the tall-hatted fishermen of 'Cha Cha Town and 

*The Tews resettled in St. Thomas for the most part. Outcasts from the Spanish 
peninsula, the West Indian Jews were the truest colonists in the Northheld islands, 
regarding the new home not merely as a place in which to gain wealth but as home 
indeed. Their civic usefulness in the British islands, when relieved of their old dis- 
abilities in one pinch or another, was so patent that it was a strong point in the 
winning of similar rights for the Jews of England. 


the gardeners of Mafolie every mouthful of food eaten on the 
island would have to be imported. 

As for shrewdness: "Fm a perfect lady, perfect!" a black crone 
told me one day when, our paths coinciding, we walked along 
together. Her apron screamed for a washing; her shoes were "cut 
down" for ventilation. But the old spirit was in her: "That's what 
I am!" she repeated, warming to her secret strategy. "When I 
walk along with a gentleman like you I never think of begging. 
No, Fm a lady, a poor widow kdy with no children to give me 
help; and the sickness closes up my stomach. God help me! what 
I suffer! But there's no good begging of a gentleman: if he is a 
real gentleman and has a heart of kindness, he'll see my need with- 
out my asking and put his hand in his pocket just like you got 
yours now. But if his heart is a stone and he is not a real gentleman, 
he won't bring up nothing for all you beg him. And so because I 
am a perfect lady I just don't mention these things to a gentleman 
but put my trust in the Lord." 

It was a masterpiece of "presentation" from the old traders' 
capital. And for a Scandinavian touch, the little dog that scam- 
pered ahead of us was named Frithjof . 

St. Thomas in its great days likewise developed a character in 
its architecture. Charlotte Amalie was built as a business city 
strictly, conveniently compact. For gardens there was little room, 
but the Spanish trick of gardening in tubs and flowerpots has 
brought gaiety to the picturesque and crowded groups of build- 
ings. Like its cemetery inscriptions, which would tax the knowl- 
edge of a Berlitz, the elements that make the St. Thomian style 
are of all nations. Spanish shop doors, French galleries, English 
panelings, and the Dutch-Scandinavian baroque of pudgy pilasters 
and curved masonry stairs, bit by bit were combined to form it. 

Luckily, after the style was set and had pervaded the city, 
prosperity receded enough to let the beauty of the place stand 
undisturbed. If Venice, say, had gone on being the Mistress of 


the Sea forever, most of its palaces on which we now rapturously 
feast our eyes would have been pulled down to make room for 
structures more up-to-date. So with Charlotte Amalie. But the 
two ports had been rich enough long enough, before having to 
adjust themselves to more frugal ways, to breed families deep- 
rooted, substantial, and conservative, that would not let them fall 
to ruin. 

St. Thomas's city, in fact, is one of the world's most charming. 
While I was footing the hill roads above it to look down on its 
white-shining masonry and strawberry and cherry roofs, with the 
clear green of the mahoganies in clumps and avenues, I was joined 
by an elderly string-bass player out on the same errand. He had 
.never traveled much, he said, but was fond of boats, and some 
globe-trotting yachtsman friend had told him that St. Thomas 
was the prettiest spot on earth. So heaven being his not-distant 
destination, it had occurred to him that it would be interesting to 
compare the Heavenly City with earth's best; whereupon before 
it was too late he put his bull fiddle in the closet and came down 
to take a look. 

Although he knew he would go back to his grandchildren and 
his fiddling in three weeks, he was enjoying a fit of indecision as 
to how best to spend the rest of his life on the island. Now that 
we were on the hill, he wanted a breezy hilltop house and began 
to select sites for it on various eminences. But when he looked 
back at the harbor, or down at Magens Bay, or off to Hans Lollik 
Island and the multitude of others grouped away toward the 
British Virgins, he fell in love with the idea of living in a boat, 
and smoking his pipe in one turquoise anchorage after another. 
And then when we came down into the top hill lanes of the city, 
he found house after house that was his very heart's desire. 

"It would be more sociable," he explained. And indeed it was 
easy to picture a trio of silver-thatched cronies with cellos and 
violins under their arms, climbing the steps across some flagged 


gutter and turning in at a gate with the bust of Orpheus in white 
marble over it, for a long, happy, earnest bout of music making. 

At night I met him again, standing under the windows of 
Bethania Hall, where a prayer meeting was in progress. Joining 
the hymn in a private hum and gazing up to where the choir's 
black heads were bent, he gave me an absent-minded handshake. 
" 'How lovely are Thy dwelling places!' " he remarked after the 
amen, blowing his nose in a big handkerchief. It was a moonlit 
night and the date palm leaning around the corner of the plain 
old building cast a biblical shadow down the wall. 

Choir music was something I was enjoying myself, as usual, in 
St. Thomas. On practice nights I was sure to be in one church or 
another, applauding the struggle silently from a dark corner pew. 

The Moravians' music was loud and light-operatic; the black 
young ladies in their floppy white hats, dulcedy choired to the 
peals of that confectioner's dream, the cream-and-gold pipe organ. 
The Lutherans' taste, on the other hand, tended toward the strict. 
Their church, in fact, is one of the most dignified in the Antilles. 
In its middle hangs a ponderous antique iron chandelier, from 
whose scrolls and curling foliage protrude a dozen mermaid- 
angels, lighting the faithful with their lamps the earnest singers, 
the fastidious colored organist, and the black boy who pumps the 
bellows: I see that boy now, loose-necked, heavenward-looking, 
falling back to bring his full weight on the lever. 

In 1672 when the Danes came to St. Thomas and Lutheran 
hymns first were sung there, they were sung in the fort. Absence 
from divine worship in those days entailed a fine of twenty-five 
pounds of tobacco. The fort, indeed, for many years did duty as 
a church a humorous sort of little castle, painted red, as if the 
prayers said in it and that courageous color were all the colony 
needed for protection. Nor was the combination ineffectual. St. 
Thomas was a port of peace; there was no point in converting it 
into a fortress like closed-port San Juan. 


The Danes, in fact, seemed to have the knack of making their 
West Indian forces effective, not by virtue of being dreaded but 
of being popular. Like the genial much dressed-up policeman who 
will give dignity to my island, meet boats, and blow the sunset 
bugle, they were everybody's pet. Uniforms were perfect for 
ballroom display, and the soldiers' exploits were of the human 
rather than the inhuman kind. 

For example, one sergeant on a trip to Denmark won the 
National Beer Drinking Contest and returned the island's hero. 
And a master-of-ordnance, asked to report why brass cannon in 
the West Indian service had so constantly to be replaced, wrote 
back, Cockroaches. The last laugh in this piece of fun came when 
headquarters stiffly demanded specimens. "For the Copenhagen 
Zoo, I fancy," mused the master-of-ordnance, sharpening his quill. 
Your Excellencies will understand, he replied, while his brother 
officers held their sides, that insects so destructive would make 
short work of any container in which we might 'try to forward 
them, or even impair the seaworthiness of the ship entrusted with 
carrying them to Denmark. 

After all, the most useful kind of army for a place like St. 
Thomas, whose one wish was to be on good terms with all cus- 
tomers, was the convivial, fun-loving kind, well drilled in ball- 
room dancing. 


As for St. Barts, perhaps you are surprised to learn that Sweden 
ever formally administered a New World island. But I tell no lie, 
she did, from 1784 to 1877. Moreover, this quite forgotten colony 
served as a port for vessels by the thousands. 


Like Statia and St. Thomas, St. Barts is one of the tiny isles 
flanking the Anegada Passage that exit from the Caribbean that 
most directly looks toward Europe. In 1800, thus, when Europe's 
sweetness as well as a large part of her coffee, tobacco, cabinet 
woods, salt, and dyes, derived from the West Indies, it was near 
the New World's commercial hub. But it was a mere eight square 
mile scrap of unproductive scenery, far inferior in trade to St. 
Thomas, where the stimulus of neutrality had been working for 
a hundred years. 

At just this juncture, Napoleon, "that little man," unfolded his 
arms. The world split, and astounded St. Barts woke to find itself 
the sole neutral port of exchange in the Western Hemisphere. 
Even Denmark was hauled backward near enough to trouble to 
prompt Britain to hold St. Thomas till the fight was over. As for 
the United States, technically neutral, its shipping was so harassed 
by the war-nervous British that we had to pitch in and fight the 
War of 1812. Of all the powers with interests in America, only 
Sweden managed to keep free of belligerency. St. Barts's position 
was unique. 

Prosperity was instantaneous, meteoric. But when Napoleon 
went to St. Helena, St. Barts went to the dogs. Their fortunes 
waxed and waned together. 

For a symbol of greatness lapsed, the morose skeleton of a great 
stoije-built hostelry looms by the harbor mouth with the moon 
leering through its glassless windows. The flagstone quays are 
steeped in a profound inanimation. But "going to the dogs" is too 
harsh a term. St. Barts's dizzy fling was like the one supreme 
adventure in a quiet life, that enriches it with anecdote and leaves 
an aura of romance around what otherwise might be prosaic. 
Over the grass-grown quays the bowsprits still bristle in crowded 
rows, if you listen to the stories of the place. "In Swedish 
times . . ." the tales begin invariably. 

The fine inn of those Swedish times, and their rowdy sailor 


taverns, have been supplanted by Madame Guyer's boarding- 
house on the Rue Oscar II. "All in the American style!" she 
beams, hustling the newcomer to see the bathroom. But it is 
American with a difference. No water connects with the familiar 
fixtures. As for her American front door, it had been installed 
with the night latch "on" when die house was built, which had 
proved very unhandy all these years. She could go out but she 
could not come in. Trudging around to the back, however, she 
had accepted as the American way, until, having released the latch, 
I ignorantly overthrew household habit by stepping in with a 
casual hello* 

Madame was dumbfounded. Not even Neptune, arriving in a 
rush of foam, could have made a more pronounced sensation. But 
as soon as she was certain of the miracle, in and out she swung, 
crying, "My god! my god! it opens from both sides!" 

This tall and hospitable lady is descended in part from Swedish 
ancestors, and though she knows no Swedish her speech carries in 
it the cadence of that tuneful singsong language. But she and her 
(generally dark) city neighbors do not dominate the island. The 
human debris of a great trading era, they are like people ship- 
wrecked long since on an alien shore rooted in it thanks to a 
freak of history but not yet really native. St. Barts was French 
before its Swedish century and is French again. When the drum 
rolls and the town crier reads a proclamation, it is read in St. Barts's 
more natural tongue. 

But the deeper-rooted countryfolk are after all Scandinavian 
in their remote ancestry Norman fishermen and herders. Their 
stone-walled lanes and wind-whipped grassy pastures, their neat 
stone-terraced gardens, look very odd and pretty on the tropic 
isle. The girl who puts you on the right road to Corossol, when 
you are walking, is a Norman peasant in starched white sunbonnet 
and bright flowered apron; and most unexpected and delightful 
she is too, found knitting under a soursop tree. 


Corossol, on its sickle of beach, has no Norman air as a village, 
to be sure. The hurricanes have dictated other architecture. "Little 
house fall light/' as the Tortola Negroes say. But its doings and its 
people are another matter, and their feather beds and the twice 
normal-size tambourines that set the rhythm of their music. 

In white bonnets every Tuesday the good housewives toil up 
a path of leg-breaking steepness to Colombier Church to confess 
their sins. Monday, in Corossol, is the day for washing clothes, 
Tuesday, the day for souls. The woman who told me had a face 
like a clear window into the simple heart. 

I tried the penitential path myself a staircase of gully boul- 
ders. For all its heat, the tamarinds cast a welcome shade across it 
and the banks on either hand quivered with the motion of gold 
butterfly wings. 

Beyond the church I climbed still farther, up and around the 
mountain by circuitous wind-blown lanes, to say good-by to Des 
Cayes, azure Baie de St. Jean, and Pointe de Lorient with its bands 
of colored rock slanting from the surf. Here, these days past, I 
had swum and clambered and greedily wolfed cactus-radishes; 
watched the casting of nets and the plaiting of high-crowned 
Cha Cha hats, and been nudged in the ribs and poured full of 
Norman wit as full, that is to say, as my own shallow linguistic 
wit permitted. "The man with shoes on travels the whole world 
through," I had been told, with a friendly push, and understood 
it: in St. Barts the shod man is the man with money. But these 
names of villages and bays and headlands have little meaning. 
Nobody goes to St. Barts to remember the pocket-sized grandeurs 
of that most nearly perfect of small islands. Nobody has, that is, 
since Napoleonic times. 

As a matter of fact, visiting the place is not especially easy. 
I went over in a schooner from Marigot, itself a port not vulgarly 
accessible; then came away to Philipsburg have you heard of 
Philipsburg? in an open boat across sixteen miles of deep- 


chasmed blue Atlantic surges. Neither trip was designed for the 
timid, really, though the latter one, thanks to an expert St. Bartian 
hand on tiller and sail, was an idyll for a sea-loving mainlander 
like me. 

More hair-raising was the schooner journey. Even the moon 
that night, hurtling through the clouds, seemed intent on melo- 
drama. When the ship tacked, she reared like a frightened animal, 
the sails boomed great guns, and the helmsman, a freckled mulatto 
in wooden shoes, bawled orders in gibberish sea French to the 
scurrying crew. Goose-fleshy to the soles of my Minnesota feet, 
I shivered in a coat. 

All the same, these undangerous terrors pleased me. It was like 
an approach to St. Barts, or Statia or St. Thomas, in their most 
bustling times. No less pleasing was the entry into port: kindly 
and slowly the harbor closed about us, as it had about so many 
sailing ships in those war-perilous years. The anchor, let go, sent 
calm rings of moonlight toward a shore trustfully unawake. 

". . . Till morning, Monsieur" said the barelegged mousse, 
tugging at my sleeve, and pointed to a doghouse on the af terdeck. 
In I rolled, dog tired. And till morning, with mouth organ in one 
pocket and swimming trunks in another, I slept such sleep as the 
merchants must have known when (safe, too, with their goods) 
they came to anchor at last, in the old times, in these same ports 
of peace. 


Chapter XIII. 


music at its most barbarous and husded to see what Danse Congo 
was afoot, it has always been a Salvation Army band saving sin- 
ners. Or nearly always. In Bridgetown occurred one of the excep- 
tional instances when it was something else. 

Barbados, as it happened, had had labor riots not long before. 
Shopwindows had been broken and gore had been spilt. It is per- 
plexing to know how to deal with such unrest, but the method 
used in this case had been to raise wages and at the same time to 
police the Bridgetown streets with impressive show of force, as 
if not one inch had been or would be yielded. Thus, one hot night 
it was hair-raising suddenly to hear a tumult of drums from the 
maze of shanties beyond Lake's Folly Lane. The shriek of a fife 
pierced my ears like a red-hot needle. Could this be a new out- 
break of the riots? Heaven protect me! Or was it just salvation's 
summons once again? 

It was neither. In fact, "It's a Ship," was the strange informa- 
tion I got when I stole in and asked. And "Where's the Navi- 
gator?" bawled the crowd that sat on doorsteps or sprawled on 
the ground. 

Hereupon the Navigator tipped his hat and hopped down from 
the high sill of a grocery and salt-fish shop. A kerosene flare had 
been nailed on the wall, by whose light the drummers belabored 


their instruments like a pair of demons. The gait of the fife player 
pulled his trouser legs tight at the knees as he prowled pantherlike 
up and down. But there was nothing sinister about the Ship that 
soon got into motion: it was a mock military drill. 

Both sexes and all ages participated. At the Navigator's com- 
mands these black wags marched into the deeper blackness of the 
alleyway to left or right; then, stepping high and fancy, back they 
would tramp to the yard's dim yellow zone, do squads-right .in 
exemplary confusion, and mark time with buttocks wagging to 
bring a laugh. Now and again some fat housewife would skip out 
of the audience to add her clowning, and one shambling cutup 
pretended to be drunk. 

Between maneuvers there were cinema love songs, and, for the 
finale (there was no bloodshed), "God Save the King." For this 
everyone stood serio-comically at the salute. "Ship's done!" then 
was the cry, and off we went to our other various amusements. 


Such alarms are quite to my taste. I love the martial when it 
is directed to a worthy end. The roll of drums that sets the pace 
for digging the Haitian fields, the trumpet blasts that give notice 
that there are fish for sale these things shall be encouraged on my 
island so long as I am Navigator. 

But captaining an island can be a headache, as was realized in 
Barbados when the pkte glass all down Broad Street was riotously 
pushed in. Am I ready for the job, I wonder? What bothers me 
most is that my political convictions are so hard to fix. 

To the wisdom of the fathers I hesitate to be untrue: more than 
ever in these times the heart cleaves to democracy. But must I 
confess it? parliamentary procedure kills me dead. For pity's 


sake, must the Chair call for the minutes under my sea-grape trees? 
Besides, a small island such as mine is more like a small tight ship 
than the crowd for which democratic processes were invented. 
The rule of majorities on shipboard is called mutiny and uni- 
versally deplored. 

Nor do I find the democratic system very efficient in govern- 
ing myself. The Old Nick in me, for one member, is a damned 
demagogue; and self-interest, usually asleep, usually also awakens 
in time to lock idealism in the gents' toilet during a close vote. 
And then there is bull-voiced sloth, bellowing for recess. No, 
the mailed fist is what I need in my own self-management if prog- 
ress is to be made. 

It would seem, thus, as if the firm hand might best rule the 
isles, a view held by not a few gloomy but sagacious people. A 
graybeard king, complete with crown and throne, no doubt would 
lend peculiar dignity to our solemner sort of revels. But as for 
playing the part myself, God forbid! Between being a cabbage 
and a king, let me be the cabbage. 

The modern dictators, true enough, no longer strut in royal 
fancy dress: perhaps of a morning while brushing my teeth I 
could dictate successfully in my underdrawers. But even so, who 
would this Smith be to say whether my islanders should use paste 
or powder in brushing theirs? And how, the decree once pub- 
lished, could I take it seriously enough to turn the boys into 
fighting machines and the girls into breeding machines to ensure 
its continuing enforcement? No, no, no. When the drums rumble 
and the sound of marching comes up the hill, it will be some 
widow's corn plot being hoed, as they merrily do these things in 

There are books to turn to, of course, for advice on governing 
an island. Thomas More's Utopia is one. Utopia's great glory 
was the fewness of its laws, which glory will also illumine mine. 
Nor will my island's laws be even as detailed as Utopia's. The 


streets there were set at twenty feet wide: I do not mean to be 
so explicit. 

Then, Sancho Panza, with two chapters of wholesome cautions 
from his master ringing in his ears, governed his "island" for five 
more chapters of Don Quixote, and very witty reading all seven 
chapters are. But the deviltry of that island no other could match. 
I shall never have the legal puzzles to solve that so puckered poor 
Sancho's brow. Through the rich laughter of those court scenes, 
however, his philosophy of government can be traced. His notion 
of how to run things, was to act as mouthpiece for that inner gov- 
ernor, plain common sense. 

On such a philosophy Great Britain has succeeded in basing 
her colonial rule that is, in small islands like mine, not remark- 
able for profits. In Tortola, for one such place, I rested my chin 
often on my thumb to admire the civil simplicities about me. 

There is a Commissioner in Tortola; he has been there for 
years and knows everybody's real estate and worth. He also is 
the magistrate, and so has learned all about island tricks and 
grudges. Moreover, he is the doctor, with a neat small hospital 
to work in, and so has a good means of insight into his people's 
private lives. The church he leaves to another man, likewise the 
agricultural station: a British official must move in white society, 
and these carers for souls and coconuts, together with their wives, 
provide it for His Excellency. A tea party can be managed very 

As for the few colored officeholders, they go about their tasks 
without much fuss. When I strolled up the zinnia-bordered paths 
of Road Town Gaol (the gate was open) to chat with the prison- 
ers while they cooked their lunch, "All good boys!" the matron 
would say, looking affectionately at her charges. By day the 
three of them went out to do odd jobs around the town, while 
she patched the seats of their other trousers; but on the morning 
of my departure they kindly stayed in long enough to wave the 


Union Jack, and whoop "Good-by!" seated astride the ridge- 
pole of the roof. 

Strange to say, Tortola wishes it were under the Stars and 
Stripes. A regime so aggressively generous as the American New 
Deal in neighboring St. Thomas quite dazzles the islanders. Be- 
sides, the British way of letting well enough alone makes the 
citizens of such odd pockets feel neglected. 

St. Thomas, meanwhile, dreaming of its past prosperity, and 
envious of San Juan's huge growth in commerce, wishes it were 
Puerto Rico. And Puerto Rico, in turn, looking to the west again 
to Cuba and Santo Domingo, wishes it could share their strut- 
ting brass-buttoned independence. But Tortola does not wish so 
much. The comfort of nestling like a tick in the British lion's 
hide it would not exchange willingly for anything but similar 
comfort, in a similar warm crease, in the hide of a perhaps juicier 

All the same, and even with Sancho Panza sent out for gover- 
nor, I would not want my island to play the role of tick. Islands 
governed from outside are prone to be thus poor and parasitic; 
or, rich in their own resources, to be exploited and feel aggrieved. 
And what is the great virtue of islands if it is not that they are 
complete in themselves? clear-cut limits make for natural unity, 
which is the reason why More set Utopia away from the main- 

As for a native insular polity, its West Indian forms were sup- 
pressed long since in favor of imported makeshifts. Montaigne 
wrote their swan song; he lived while they were dying. Possibly 
the primitive systems he praised in his defense Of the Caniballes 
looked better from his study in Perigord than they would have 
close at hand; the blisses of far-off savagery we essayists are in- 
clined to over-rate. And actually, as I must hasten to admit, he 
was writing of the Brazilian Indians. 

But these Antillean and South American savageries were of a 


piece. Besides, his word "Caniballe" was merely one early variant 
of "Carib," the Caribs or Caniballes being the first man-eaters 
with whom shocked Europe came in contact.* His sonorous 
praise of the simplicities of their polity, thus a simplicity parallel 
to single-purposed Sparta's fits as well one place as the other. 
But though these specialists in war gave the white interlopers tit 
for tat as long as they were able, civilization finished them off 
at last. Without exception their Caribbees were presently ruled 
by the continental powers and still are, though Martinique and 
Guadeloupe, as full-fledged departments of France in the era of 
pre-1940, took part in framing the laws that then governed all 

The Greater Antilles had been cleared still earlier of their 
Arawaks, whose organized specialty was ballet dancing. In these 
islands self-government in several instances has been resumed, 
but it is not again in the hands of dancers. Strong-arm dictators, 
good or bad, with an army to bring discipline, make it function 
most successfully. Yes, the atmosphere gives a Northern repub- 
lican the prickles; it is the old Latin-American course, set with 
melancholy sagacity by Franciat and Bolivar long ago, of per- 
sonal rule crystallizing order out of disorder. 


Being crystallized a little in the process was something the Cold 
Spring tombstone man in Cuba and Santo Domingo gradually 

* Since it is certain that Shakespeare read Montaigne, and likely that "Caliban** 
is an anagram for "Cannibal," Caliban's first speeches in The Tempest (Act I, 
scene 2) are curious: with wild eloquence he barks out against the foreign theft of his 
old island liberties. 

tFrancia, the joyless dictator of Paraguay, 1814-1840, spared his countr the 
vastation of the rest of the continent's revolutionar and civil conflic 

devastation of the rest of the continent's revolutionary and civil conflicts by 
its borders, islandlike, to all commercial intercourse and travel. 


learned to take. At the cry of "Psst!" I soon was springing into 
the air like any Latin and landing to face the direction from 
which the warning had come: TLona Militar again! with the usual 
twin riflemen pointing the way out with their thumbs. 

In Santiago de Cuba one fine night, while the fourteen-ton 
Angel of Justice on the cathedral pediment blew her trumpet in 
silence over the noisy plaza, I was constrained by the police, in 
company with a hundred or so fellow strollers, to stroll counter- 
clockwise. It seemed a tiresome extension of the traffic rules. 
However, what ruffles the feathers of a dove like me may be 
quieting to other birds. In Santiago on another night I shared 
in excitements of another kind. 

That city's cathedral, next to Santo Domingo's, is the oldest 
seat of Church authority in the New World, and in it I attended 
Rosary and sermon. It was a Lenten service for some men's or- 
ganization; piety prevailed throughout the dim old edifice. 

The sermon I could almost follow. Delivered with slow em- 
phasis, it seemed designed for a listener who still did not know 
much Spanish in spite of all the English lessons he had been giv- 
ing. But nothing about it was so emphatic as its end. From a side 
aisle a missile was hurled at the pulpit by some catfoot intruder, 
which missile, though it shattered harmlessly, killed our com- 
posure, and brought the service to a jangling halt. 

"While Christ is with me I fear nothing! " bellowed the preacher 
to allay the surge of agitation that suddenly rushed forward: what 
was in the minds of all of us was those Red-scrawled slogans of 
the Santiago streets. Meanwhile, come what would, the Host 
had to be exposed and put away according to liturgical formula; 
but while the priests were at this, a puff of incense was mistaken 
for smoke from a bomb, which set the congregation in a new 

Feeling somewhat chilly between the shoulder blades after 
these devotions, I went across the way to the plaza and strolled 


counterclockwise. Was Cuba too much or too little policed? On 
which side of the fence was a liberal to stand? 

Earlier, in Havana, I had watched the ovation that greeted 
the return to the capital of Cuba's strong man, Batista (then still 
merely "Colonel"), and his latest president. To judge the spirit 
of these triumphs is not easy, especially in a country whose citi- 
zens are naturally festive and live continually in the press of 
crowds. It was obvious enough that the impromptu Negro bands 
were in action for the fun of it; in rhythms of spontaneous glad- 
ness they thumped on snatched-up packing cases, bits of scrap 
iron, or their own straw hats. The political clubs, too, marched 
with a will. 

But the colonel failed to appear in his own parade. It seemed 
more prudent to leave the train in the suburbs and drive incon- 
spicuously to the presidential palace. His luggage came through 
as scheduled, however. With military escort armed to the teeth, 
the suitcases provided the majestic climax in a procession made 
up for the most part of government pensioners, government em- 
ployees, government dump trucks, and government street-clean- 
ing equipment. Everything that could be hustled in to swell the 
prodigiousness of the demonstration rolled down the Avenida de 
Belgica that day. Nor had the American firms doing business in 
Cuba omitted to enter their truck fleets in generous entirety. 

This great testimony of good will was reviewed from the 
roof of the palace porte-cochere where the colonel, finely genial, 
had a smile and a personal nod for every dump-truck driver. On 
the goddesses of liberty, on floats, he beamed especially. Stand- 
ing beside him, the little new president was genial too, though 
in an obscurer way. I wished he would take down the handker- 
chief that shielded his lips, or take off for a moment the dark 
glasses that hid his eyes. But though I had no chance to appraise 
die expression of anything but his nose, the gay old city about 


us had signs of the times written across it, unduly ominous 
to a man not used to Latin politics. 

"Yes, yes," the Cubans sigh, but then they shrug, and reflect 
that countries of far longer experience than theirs are in as hot 
or hotter water. 

Santo Domingo boasted a half-century start on Cuba, for in- 
stance, as a sovereign state, and very bloody was the education in 
self-government that the Dominicans acquired while they were at 
it. The highest New World mountains east of the main Rocky 
and Andean chains are in their wonderful country; it is the scene 
of the oldest New World history; of New World ecclesiastics 
its archbishop has the most venerable title. In fact Santo Domingo 
is a land of superlatives, and the chief of these at the present date 
is that island genius, Generalissimo Doctor Rafael Leonidas 
Trujillo Molina. 

Here is a name no visitor is likely to forget. The capital, most 
ancient colonial city of the hemisphere, has had the name the 
Columbus brothers gave it scrapped in favor of the strong man's 
own. For if Constantine the Great rechristened Byzantium in 
honor of himself, why should Santo Domingo boggle at a like 
event? Ciudad Trujillo "Trujillo City" its name is, till fur- 
ther notice and, who knows, the name may stick. The Dominicans 
themselves. do not use it much; they say la capital as they prob- 
ably always have. 

No, the discipline is rather for us in the world outside, ignorant 
of the fact though we may be. The generalissimo, an undisputed 
titan in his own country, burns to be thought great elsewhere. 
In my Monte Cristi hotel there were four pictures of the bene- 
factor in the parlor and one of Archimedes. But such notice is 
not enough. The four Trujillos glared at the one old Greek who, 
among them, was the man with an international reputation. 

Happily, Trujillo's fame is growing. Carleton Beals has spread 
it in the Sunday supplements with such art as to make the best 


of us hesitate to turn out lights at bedtime. In Santo Domingo, 
we must believe, the benefactor is under every bed; no whisper 
of derogation goes unavenged. He knows all and takes all, or 
at least a share; for it is the universal rumor that any profitable 
enterprise in his country must be directly profitable to him. 

That Beals has nothing but enormities to report does not mean 
that the benefactor is not a patriot in the true, if bizarre, Latin 
sense, nor indefatigable in furthering Santo Domingo's good as 
he sees it. The scaUawag young thief of the Virgin of San Cris- 
tobal's jewels has lived to be decorated by the Pope with the 
cross of St. Gregory the Great. 

As for bridges built and roads made, the tolls may go now 
into Trujillian pockets, but the things themselves exist at last for 
present and future use. The harbor improvements are the ad- 
miration of Caribbean shipping. In the production of that staple, 
rice, the Dominicans at last are self-sufficient: Trujillo may grow 
it, but the irrigation that I saw brightening the desert valley of 
the Yaque del Norte with a water-loving crop, will outlive him, 
if the valley people have any gumption. Unbedeviled by thorns, 
beggars, and scorpions, at last, the ruins of the palaces and 
churches of America's oldest colony display themselves in apple- 
pie good order. And as for peace, who can read of the frantic 
tumult of Dominican history without a grudging obeisance to 
the man who has trussed her up and keeps her in a settled pos- 

Yes, it is an era of good works. At Dajabon, during my year 
in the islands, some thousands of Haitian laborer squatters were 
killed by the military and burnt in piles; it is immigrants of white 
blood, not black, that are called for by the present policy of up- 
lift. I see it yet, the great gate of Dajabon beetling over the Mas- 
sacre River: here ended the highroad that progress had built. It 
was a mere track that led askew to the bridge beyond, and into 


the Black Republic. Overhead in the morning wind the Domini- 
can flag flapped smartly. 


As for Haiti, across the bridge oldest of the Latin-American 
republics I soon found that in it I had not got away from dicta- 
torial government nor the military. Very tedious the rules and 
regulations were. But though the required permits to come and 
go gave me rather more than enough pompous intercourse with 
the Garde cT Haiti, it was not the "Psst!" saying sort of army. 
No camera was snatched from my hands at a baseball game by 
an infantryman pretending to do his duty, whereas actually he 
was curious, like a child, to peer through the little finder. My 
one serious brush with the Haitian military was of another kind. 

High on a ridge in the northern plateau is Plaisance, the seat 
of a dukedom in Christophers time, but now a humble enough 
town. It has a church through which the clouds drift, and a 
bustling cantonment; and here, peremptorily, my car was stopped 
by a lieutenant of the Garde who made no bones about his ex- 
pectation that I would give him a ride to Port-au-Prince. Nor 
was I backward in bidding him to "mount." Politeness and pru- 
dence called for nothing less. 

But it was to prove no mere politic kindness. Instead of driving 
off at once, we paused for a luncheon served by his sister, a girl 
of striking beauty. Perfect of bronze skin, willowy, and tall, and 
with inch hoops of gold in her neat-moulded ears, she mixed the 
salad with habitual French care. Ste. Beuve's essays, Molire*s 
plays, stood on the shelf. 

As for the drive, it was gruellingly long. But we stopped awhile 
in Gonaives, that parched wooden city on its Mesopotamian 


plain, to call on relatives, and again in St. Marc for the same 
purpose. I was stared at or taken to by more than one small niece 
that day. And after dark, when it was easy to be uninhibited, 
the lieutenant and I broke into a long series of duets while the 
car bounced along among the boulders. Rigoletto and Aida were 
rifled of their most melodious gems; he awed me with an aria from 
Der Rosenkavalier and followed this with the Second Hungarian 
Rhapsody, burlesqued with no small musical wit. I even heard a 
Haitian ditty or two from him, though he deprecated these as 

Thus harmoniously we rode through Arcahaie, past the Stink- 
ing Springs, and so to Port-au-Prince very late at last. And when 
I think of the lieutenant now or get a Christmas greeting from 
him, I have more to remember than his preliminary curt request 
and pistol. 

The dictator I never saw. I do not recall even seeing pictures 
of the man. Haiti has had a wealth of tyrants in its day, from 
those early genuinely grand ones, Toussaint, Dessalines, Chris- 
tophe, to those more recent and less picturesque, the embezzlers 
of the public funds. But in this land whose history is somber with 
clotted mulberry-red blood and pig-eyed feats of selfishness, how 
had the ragged peasants managed to retain so ancient an air of 
happiness? Even the presidency, embezzlers notwithstanding, 
seemed to have built for itself a tradition of earnest dilettantism, 
as if Haiti were a New World China where the official was ex- 
pected also to be a poet. 

When, sipping something on Madame FraenkeFs flowery ver- 
anda, I bothered to read the papers, the legislative summaries 
were always soothing. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 
after a routine rubber-stamping of the proems verbal, the senate 
discussed the erection of monuments to the national heroes. On 
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with eloquence no less stir- 
ring, pensions were voted to living bigwigs. Meanwhile the presi- 


dent governed without frivolous interference and had time be- 
side to devote to the muse. 

But if I never got a glimpse of this serviceable recluse, I did 
chance on a memorial to the man nor was it one decreed tact- 
fully by the senate. In Kenskoff , where he had a summer villa, a 
very short bridge had just been built over a very small rill that 
tumbles through the turf; and since even such unremarkable 
novelties have importance in the mountains, the workmen had 
scratched the date of it in the fresh concrete, and added, Pr- 
dent Vincent bon papa, le Magistral Declasse ban gargon* To 
read an inscription so good-natured first made me smile, then re- 
minded me of the neon-light screamers of Santo Domingo, where 
Dies y Trujillo "God and Trujillo" is spelled out as if the 
citizen's well-being depended on blatant adulation. 

The amenities of this Haitian scheme, in fact, with president 
writing poetry, senate discussing monumental art, and people dig- 
ging their fields communally to the brisk tumult of drums, I 
rather liked. And I still do. I am interested in poetry myself, and 
monuments, God knows, and gardening. Or the Tortola scheme 
has its merits, in which responsibility is unloaded cheaply on one 
competent foreign-hired official. 

But never would I be that Tortolian dictator in the white sun 
helmet. Tea with the vicar and his wife and the agricultural di- 
rector and his wife is too narrow a social round for me. Nor will 
anybody ever catch me living in a sentry-guarded wedding cake, 
as President Vincent must. I want to lend a hand with the nets 
when the bonito run, and be pestered by the children's stopping 
in to swap stamps and look at pictures. 

The truth is, of course, as probably you have guessed by now, 
that my hope is that my island will run itself, and as naturally as if 
uninhabited. For though I believe in the necessity of law, and re- 
spect the usefulness of rewards and penalties, I neither want to 

* "President Vincent, sugar daddy, Magistrate Declasse, old pal old pal old pal" 


govern nor be governed. Goodness itself should be law and rec- 
ompense enough, in which interplay of precept and well-being 
my angel-islanders and I shall find our peace. 

But if, for variety some day, cussedness should infect the ant- 
like tranquillity of our social scheme, and the Golden Rule carved 
on our cliff take on a tinge of the sarcastic, why abandon these 
things for others notoriously shaky? Dictator-saviours die at last 
and leave matters more open to mismanagement than before. But 
their bags of tricks are any citizen's to use: thus, when my 
fellows show symptoms of unrest, out I shall pop some festival 
or expedition, with banners to wave, uniforms to wear, songs, 
oratory, parades, dancingnot to forget the bottled goods and 
victuals. Bread and circuses are the classic remedy; I like them 
both very much myself, especially when homemade. Or if mili- 
tary alarms seemed more in order, a Barbados Ship could well be 
organized, to divert the urge healthily to burlesque. 

For is the Navigator's art only that of keeping off the rocks? 
Must the Ship of State forever be steered in a panic among im- 
mediate dangers? Good navigation keeps the vessel not merely off 
but away from reefs. In our hearts at least, and thank heaven 
for it, we can run grandly before the wind, with the Happy 
Island the home port toward which every sail is straining. 


Chapter XIV. 


thought to be the appropriate setting: among the monuments to 
brief lives, things immortal should take on proper stature. It 
seems a romantic notion now, if not silly. A busier generation 
indulges its small turn for revery while waiting for traffic lights 
to change from red to green. However, in old St. Anthony's 
burying ground, one morning in Montserrat, I was musing in the 
Victorian way when two colored boys came by, whistling at 
the top of their lungs, and so interrupted the enterprise for a 

One was named Loomis. He was a show-card writer who had 
learned his art by correspondence with a school in Louisville, a 
lean doleful chap with a gold tooth in front. The other, aptly (f ot 
he was very chesty), was named Samson. He was a barber but 
did not take his work too seriously, I think; at any rate the Mont- 
serratians that morning could go unshaved for all of him: there 
was time not only for the sea bath they had come for but a chat 
with the visitor, sitting on a grave-slab among the lilies. 

Like the faithful tombstone designer that I am, I had been 
enjoying a busman's holiday, examining the epitaphs, and piously 
reflecting on Gladstone's dictum that a people's civilization can 
be gauged by the way it treats its dead a boost for which the 
trade ever since has been pathetically grateful. But it was a 


pleasure to be interrupted, and Samson's rough-and-tumble looks 
reminded me that other professions than mine give clues to a 
people's place on the kdder upward. Barbering, too his line- 
could serve. In a word, I found myself telling the boys about my 
last haircut, which I had got in French St. Martin. 

In St. Martin there was no barbershop. The island is a flyspeck 
on maps when not omitted altogether, for which reason perhaps 
no barber has taken a pole there and set up business. But Jean the 
hotel boy told me there was a man in town who could be called 
in to do a job of haircutting, so I sent him to fetch the fellow. 

Jean was always going off and then coming back without 
having accomplished anything; I looked him up in the pantry by 
and by and so learned that our barber was out for the present 
on his daily run to keep in training. He was the heavyweight 
boxing champion of Santo Domingo, Jean admiringly revealed, 
and as strong as a young team of mules. 

Awed, I awaited a more favorable hour, and when the hero 
came with kit in one black hammy hand, seated myself submis- 
sively in the chair he planted in the hotel's front vestibule. "Cool 
here," he explained, diumbing hotel patrons to the back. Then 
crouching over my shrunk-down form, he brandished the scissors 
in a fanfare of preliminary snips. "Happy to oblige you!" he 
boomed; "but in Santo Domingo," he went on, taking me by an 
ear, "my regular job is repairing boilers." 

There was no gasp of professional dismay from the Montserrat 
barber. To him the experience seemed a rare social privilege. 
"You got a lovely haircut, right enough," he reported, leaning 
back to admire its neck parts. 

"We box, too," said Loomis, doubling his fists at the manly 
thought. But then he relaxed and a tender, almost lovesick, light 
came into his face. 

"Do you know some of the Hollywood stars?" Samson inquired 
hopefully , for he had read his friend's mind. 


Blushing, I had to admit that such was not my sphere. It 
seemed incredible to the boys that I could share the continent 
with these beings without taking advantage of such proximity. 
Their own dream, it proved, was to add theater management to 
their existing businesses: Montserrat was yet unbrightened by the 
cinema except as a tent show came over, now and then, from 
Antigua. The double bliss of riches and of luscious unrest every 
performance, during the kissing scenes, opened before them like 
a gate of gold. 

Gold, however, was just what they lacked at present to realize 
the dream. When the topic came to this leaden dead-end we re- 
membered we were in a graveyard. 

The boys rose and shook my hand. "See you later," they called 
back as they went through the beach-top hedge. And soon, with 
faded bathing suits knotted around their bodies, they were 
wading vigorously into the sea. 

It was late summer; the pink lilies in a huge profusion half- 
buried the gravestones under their deep-scented sheaves. An old 
man was mowing them steadily with his cutlass, but there were 
thousands left and thousands more were pushing up buds as if 
life were too abundant in Montserrat for Father Time to curb. 
Under the lilies and among the tablets, or under the beach-top 
hedge especially, iguanas rustled: the blue saw-tooth scales down 
the ridges of their spines gave them a humorous appearance, as 
if here was the age of dragons safely visible through some tele- 
scope's wrong end. 

But between old times and this of the dragons* lizardy succes- 
sors, how many victims of yellow fever, young and unready, had 
died and been laid away here about me! Hurricanes and earth- 
quakes had dug graves for others; and others again in tranquil 
old age had come almost of their own accord, leaning on their 
canes. Peace lapped them around now, all equally. The church 
drowsed in its grove, the steep mountains, of rich green fissured 


with umber landslips, seemed to float above the fields. And 
monotonously on its dark beach the sea mounted and lapsed, and 
rushed up and lapsed again. Loomis and Samson were resting, 
stretched out in the shallows. 

Yes, these colonial British graveyards could be domains of 
quiet. I thought back to Lucea's in Jamaica, on its headland, with 
spire rising gray over the broad-boughed trees; and of Antigua's 
cathedral churchyard, where gouty planters and their hoop- 
skirted ladies lie fast asleep under the classic stones: up the long 
slope of that latter lawn, birds of a sober feather flocking together, 
the sexton's turkeys marched, pecking and gobbling, while the 
two St. Johns, carved atop their respective gateposts, looked out 
upon the white gables of the city. 

Then in my idle brain up rose the mahogany avenues of the 
old St. Thomas cemetery. In that international port of peace here 
was the most international corner: the inscriptions were in Danish, 
Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, Portuguese, English, Dutch, 
and French. But all these various voices were muted to one level 
graveyard stillness, like a rustle heard deep in a shell, or the 
whisper of death, death, that the sea raised to the boy Walt 
Whitman's ear. All languages made the one same inevitable 

Father Time here put down his cutlass to rest his bones. I, too, 
lay back, head on hands on a warm grave ledger, and stared 
up through the plump twigs of the frangipanis. Memory of the 
sepulchers at Santiago de los Caballeros in the great mid-valley 
of Santo Domingo came to mind: they were whited extremely 
ornate concrete pastry work, whose Street of the Dead at the 
end of town unbrokenly continued the main street of the living. 
To imagine the old carriages that drove out of some Poe's tale 
into the Santiago streets at night, lamps streaming candle grease 
and horses all ribs, galloping on down this street of mausoleums 
was a fancy shudderingly delicious. But the gates were shut by 


that hour. The moon, lighting the two cities with impartial bril- 
liance, glittered in the beaded wreaths and turned the urns and 
pediments to sculptured snow. Peering through, in my revery, 
I felt the chill of the gate bars on my cheeks again. 

Or the graveyards of the Haitian hinterlands what would 
Gladstone have said of their antique piety? It was sad to realize 
that at the sight of the calabash bowls of meal that I had seen so 
often, left as offerings in the niches of the tombs the cups of 
drink, the candle stubs he would have let the word "Super- 
stition!" agitate his sideburns. 

And true it is, too, that the most numerous spirits and two of 
the chief gods of the Voodoo pantheon dwell in these church- 
blessed precincts. Before the great cross that rises Christianly 
above all lives the god of cemeteries, dwarf Baron Samedi, master 
of the souls of those slain by magic. Behind it drunkenly sleeps 
Ged6, the grave-digger god, rum-loving and scandalmongering. 
While the white gentlefolk of Antigua's cathedral churchyard 
are at their slumbers and the turkeys flock untroubled on the turf 
above, the Haitian dead are astir: they feed at posterity's expense 
and are included symbolically in family affairs, or, angrily roam- 
ing the night fields and steep coffee thickets, they visit their 
grudges on the impious, with disease, ill luck, and melancholy. 

Here the iguanas broke into a sudden scamper; Loomis and 
Samson, twirling their wet suits, passed below the hedge on their 
way back into town. "Sea bath feel too good to end!" they called; 
whereupon, by undisciplined transition, recollection of swimming 
frolics crowded into my head. 


With Glanville Smith I dived into the sapphire brine again, off 
Coki Point: in St. Thomas I had chanced on a colored taxi-driver 
of exactly my own name, to celebrate which odd event we rode 
off for an afternoon's bathing in Smith's Bay. But Coki Bay was 
finer. The blue of its depths as we swam through the liquid 
radiance, a white fish and a brown, I think of still with wonder. 

Or, for green water, there was Englishman's Bay on the north 
coast of Tobago. Herons waded along the pink crescent of its 
sands; annatto flowers wagged their lemon-colored faces in the 
breeze. At the beach ends the high rocks were draped in the 
tapestry of vines and wide-branched foliage: thank heaven the 
world was shut away from that dangerously perfect place! But 
the great Orinoco, for a continental reminder, dyed the blue sea 
with its yellow at Englishman's Bay, a hundred miles from its 
nearest mouth. My submarine wallowings were in a light half 
emerald, half amber. 

Then I thought of the Calabash Bay brown water babies who 
had taught me to coast in like a gargoyle projecting from the 
parapet of a breaking wave; and of Jason Apperly in a hill torrent 
of his Dominica, tickled to giggling by the bubbles that seethed 
up about him; and then of the lonesome Arima River in Trinidad, 
dropping from cool pool to pool under the bamboos and the 
jutting banks. Drowsing on a silk-smooth boulder there in mid- 
stream, as I drowsed now among these lilies, I had watched a 
butterfly of Brazilian blue flap by on wings as broad as sandwiches. 

Then without even the effort of sitting up I was hunching my 
shoulders happily in a St. Lucian warm spring. My small guides, 
on the bank above, wriggled in anticipation of their turns, and 
blew crystalline bugle calls on hollow leaf-stems from a papaya. 
And next day they led me to a waterfall that flowed hot on one 
side, cold on the other: it was a freak so pleasant that when I tried 
it I resolved my island positively must have one. 


But these St. Lucian waters were of a gentle temperature. In 
Nevis, at the old Bath House, I had laid my startled length in 
something decidedly more peppery. After I had staggered up again 
in fact, and raised a limp hand to a towel, the puzzle was to know 
how to finish sweating. Heaven help me! what a freshet! There 
was no half-cold waterfall, no cool water at hand whatever, and 
no servant to bring any in the emergency. For the planters of 
Antigua, Barbados, or St. Kitts, who took the cure in the old 
Madeira-quaffing days, had departed this life long since, in spite 
of the relief from gout the waters gave them. They and their 
liveried valets and powdered ladies, and the breath of fashion 
that these people had brought the spa, had gone away; the vaulted 
chambers and high airy galleries were guestless except for one 
military invalid and me. 

The Banos de Coamo in Puerto Rico I had found more con- 
temporary in their convenience. But like Nevis's, here was an 
establishment very old. The thick masonry had stood up against 
a century or two of hurricanes. 

While the maids of Spanish times opened the giant faucets and 
drove stoppers as big as rolling pins into the giant drains, the 
cabctlleros had jested coarsely, pulling off their tight spurred 
boots. And then, though saddle-tired muscles eased in the marble 
tub where now I floated, faces must have hardened and grown 
pensive. Men came to Coamo for more than baths in the gay old 
times: stakes were high in the candlelit hot casino. 

Or their pouting senoras had been my predecessors, obese from 
too great a passion for poached eggs in their broth. What dreams 
had bloomed in the bath-heated imagination of the ladies, I 
wondered, as they rolled pneumatically in this cozy old sar- 

Yes, the old spa had the flavor in it of other times. The parlor 
was a lesson in Spanish etiquette; as for the dining room, painted 


with pompously scroll-framed moon-struck landscapes, here was 
the original of the "interior" at whose cardboard glories, in the 
Davidson Opera House at home, I had gawked so many times with 
small-boy awe. I went through the heavy menu once again, 
lying in the Montserrat graveyard, and heard the spry old waiter 
wheeze, "Fish, sir?" formally at my elbow. 

But fish and formality indeed! A more immediate recollection 
smote me and made me sit up with a jerk. The Commissioner was 
to entertain at Coconut Hill this very night. I must put on a collar 
and attend; Would I be expected to take a place at a bridge table 
perhaps? a thought so anxious that a sweat like Nevis's burst 
out on my back. 

It was a needless perspiration. Bridge was not obligatory that 
night. My new bow tie as much as tied itself; it was of a red 
shade as was also the cummerbund I wore around my middle. 
Items so daring, amid the British black, set the girls' eyes in a 
sparkle. And having planted the flag of fashion Columbus-like in 
their insular world, I basked in the sensation caused without men- 
tioning that these things were novelties also to the wearer. 

But insularity need not imply rusticity. The butlers with 
courtly tread handed the trays of whisky-and-soda and excellent 
iced coffee, the lamps roared, and the bridge tables showed with 
what refinement the cave-man lust for blood can be endued. 
There was "hearts" and there was fortunetelling, with well- 
modulated Creole laughter and urbane repartee; and then finally 
an elegant supper on well-shined mahogany. 

Meanwhile, and while I amused the young ladies in their swishy 
frocks, or discussed church music with the white-thatched canon 
(he wrote anthems) or heeded the remarks of the dapper in- 
spector of the port, the picture would fade suddenly from before 
my eyes, and quite as if I were in a proper graveyard scene again 
an impolite spell of revery would seize me. Recollection of an- 


other party on that same day and island would push imperiously 
into mind. 

Beyond the town, and past St. Anthony's, a beach follows all 
the way to Bransby Point* Worrying about the new tie and the 
evening's social responsibilities, I had walked the brown sands 
that afternoon from bay to bay, around cliffs that beetled close 
to the wash. But always the next bay looked pleasanter for a 
swim; until, in silhouette against the dazzling sea-polish laid down 
by the sun, I saw some bathers ahead who might make me com- 
pany. Watching my footing over a stony ridge, I came down 
courteously to ask to join them. 

The request was never made. Suddenly thunderstruck, I stood 
rooted in my tracks. 

Uprooted violently from theirs were my intended bath mates. 
These two bronze Adams and their two bronze Eves sprinted in 
search of a fig tree as if a vice-squad car had tooted its horn in 
Eden. But before shame had found a covering one Adam turned 
a cartwheel and came up bellowing: "It's only the tombstone 
man from America!" For it was not Adam but Samson with 
Loomis and a pair of girl-friends. One good sea bath that day had 
led to another on a more ambitious scale. 

Was ever tombstone designer taken captive before by libertine 
tritons and their mermaids? Probably not, I surmised hurriedly, 
while Enid twitched my shirttails out. 

"You give us a fright at first," said Dorthy cheerfully, draping 
a crown of seaweed on my unaccustomed brow. "We thought 
you was the inspector of the port. Not that he would make 


trouble for poor girls like us," she went on, while Loomis fetched 
the rum. "Not police trouble, I mean. But he think he got a lease 
on me, and if find me out with Samson ..." 

"Sure would be a fight!" Samson cried, beaming completely 
from head to toe. And up on one shoulder he swung the inspec- 
tor's faithless doxy. 

"Gentlemen sure can act unreasonable," she mused, rubbing 
Samson's belly with her heels. "Inspector don't want me to regale 
myself with nobody but him." 

"Have a rum," said Loomis, wiping the cup clean with his 
finger. My Adam's apple pumped and tears sprang to my eyes: 
it was the local brand, poured from a dim naphtha bottle. 

But Enid had been seized by an inspiration. "Mr. Tombstones 
will snap our photo!" she screeched. "Samson, put Dorthy down 
and stand all in a row." 

"O.K.! " sang out Samson; "let me get my ukulele." 

"Ukulele? what for?" grumbled Loomis. For "live pictures" 
were his private business: such wares found a good market in the 
London underworld. "Those guys want action!" he protested. 

"We develop the films ourself," explained Dorthy, coolly, 
bringing the camera from behind a rock. And in a row the two 
couples stood: Samson with his chest out and one arm lightly 
around Dorthy; and lank Loomis, his gold tooth glittering, with 
pert Enid who had one front tooth gone. 

"My specialty is epitaphs," I warned them, gingerly fingering 
the camera. I had thought to find it hot. "But if a Dominican 
boilermaker can cut hair," I went on, adjusting myself to the 
occasion, "I guess an American tombstone man can take a photo- 
graph. Look pleasant please, Ladies and gentlemen! Now hold 
it!" Snap! 

"Whoopee!" cried Samson, turning another cartwheel. 

Loomis was bursting with further plans. This would put money 
in his pocket. "Mister, you just got us going," he crowed. And 


while my subjects piled up or sprawled out like a basket of 
puppies, in poses that they hoped would look audacious, or played 
leapfrog or rode pickaback, or lay in the wash of the waves in a 
row of alternate muscularity and soft curves, I knelt, clambered 
on rocks for bird's-eye views, or plunged after them into the sea 
to snap the shutter. 

Samson had brought "the gloves": Dorthy and Enid, with 
much noisy coaching, staged a feminine boxing match. The boys 
then posed in sporting-page positions, and followed with some 
show-off boxing of their own. Panting and dizzy after these 
various exertions, everybody dropped on the sand to rest. 

But Samson, that deep reservoir of life, soon sat up and reached 
for his ukulele. Leaning back on Dorthy, he tuned the strings, 
and in accents as like the movie crooners as he could manage 
sang "Dancing Cheek to Cheek." For the hinty longing of the 
American love songs is new and beautiful to the colored islanders; 
their own songs the carnival ditties, the Trinidad calypsos tell 
of an open, unbalked, unromantic kind of passion; and though 
they respond readily to the strong rhythms of this island music 
and guffaw at its rowdy texts, it no longer seems refined. The 
sweet music of Tin Pan Alley is more stylish. 

Cheek to cheek indeed! Here in full sunlight was Samson, 
leaning back naked on his naked girl, and crooning the wistful 
songs of a city where love blooms covertly behind pulled-down 
shades. The scene lacked modesty, no doubt about it. 

"You play the uke, Dorthy," I proposed. "Lean on Sam and 
please let me put a frangipani flower over your little ear. We'll 
make that the last picture." Mixing of blood in long Irish Mont- 
serrat can breed bronze variations on the Celtic theme, and this 
couple typified their beauty at its best. Enid's heritage was less 
happy, but she was a jolly girl and so, not wishing to leave her 
with her feelings hurt, I brought back a double handful of hot 


high-beach sand to where she lay, and sifted it slowly down her 
belly. "Feel good?" I inquired. She wiggled in a rapture. 

At Coconut Hill there luckily was hot water for a bath. The 
faucets roared in a resounding tone, in tune with which I found 
myself singing "Massa's in the Cold Cold Ground." How absurd! 

"What if my tombstone clients could see me now?" I mused, 
lying back to dissolve the sea salt from my hair. As it happened 
I was thinking of the afternoon, but suddenly a-blush sat up and 
twitched-to tie window shutters. 

At the party, presently, white collar around sunburnt neck, and 
red tie around the collar, I looked quizzically at the inspector of 
the port. "Our Montserrat products," a kind lady told me, help- 
ing me with my West Indian education, "are limes, and long- 
staple cotton." The parcels that went off to the London picture 
dealers she ignored, juicier than limes for all their flatness. Or did 
I have a more complete knowledge than hers of the island's 

As for the canon, we toured the English cathedrals, he and I. 
I was glad to note that it impressed him when I mentioned that 
among my library's curiosities was the music for Lord Nelson's 
funeral in St. Paul's in 1 805. 

"The hero of Trafalgar was married just over the channel 
here, in Nevis," he boasted, crossing his legs briskly the other 
way. And the subject of dirges reminded him that he had written 
a funeral march himself, based on the sea's beat at the foot of his 
church's burying ground. "I suppose you know your poet Whit- 
man's lines . . ." he hazarded. 

I told him that I had thought of them there that very morning. 
"But someone has pointed out," I went on, for a thought had 
struck me, "that Orpheus's great aria, in the opera, if sung with 
joy instead of pathos, would do as well for 'I have found my 
Eurydice!' as for 1 have lost' her." 

"No! no! a sacrilege! " he demurred. 


"But my thought was," I persisted, "that the waves that run up 
your long brown beach may be whispering, not ^ death y death? 
but 'life, life, life: " 

"A beautiful idea!*' exclaimed the canon. "You make me pine, 
almost, to get at next Sunday's sermon. 'Ocean, mighty mother of 
all things' . . ." he intoned. 

But still we were thinking differently of those waves. The 
waves that I heard there at the Commissioner's urbane party, came 
whispering with a glint in their roving eyes. 


tf A KB OtT * 

Chapter XV. 


to adapt himself to earth's various uncomfortable climates. Most 
of us would live in California or Paris if we could; but since this 
bliss is reserved for the few, the many exist and multiply else- 
where, even if it has to be amid the rigors of dried-up mountains, 
soggy jungles, Arctic snow fields, or deserts that roast the feet. 

The next most adaptable animal, as Gibbon pointed out in 
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is the hog. But 
Gibbon did not pause long in his masterpiece to consider the 
porcine genius, nor do I intend to do so in mine. For man, to give 
him his due, is several skips ahead of this nearest rival. Even in 
the tropics, where clothes, heat, and artificial shelter are unobliga- 
tory, and hog thus might hope to live on equal terms with man, 
he doesn't: over the superior animal's charcoal fire his hams, as 
usual, cook till tender. 

Adaptable though the race may be, its habit is to migrate 
around the globe according to its original latitudes. The American 
pioneers, as a rule, drove due west in their covered wagons, 
Yankees to my Minnesota, Tennesseeans to Arkansas. In the larger 
migrations, the dark denizens of the tropics stick to the hot places; 


the swart subtropicals are found in the subtropics still; we North- 
European blonds, even when we go to Australia, choose its tem- 
perate parts for the new home and let the torrid parts stay empty. 

However, this is only a general rule. As soon as they learn of 
Harlem, certainly, the black Africans go there if they get the 
chance. And not yet have I read statistics ominous of the 
extinction of that slum colony. A thousand miles from their 
natural tropics, its inhabitants stand the cold because they love 
the life; babies are born to grow up and produce more babies, as 
methodically as if New York were in Dahomey. 

We whites, on the other hand, regard ourselves as more deli- 
cate. If we exchange apple orchards for nutmeg groves, we invite 
a quick racial decline: in two or three generations, limp, impo- 
tent, and gibbering, we die: such is the nasty picture. 

But stop! wait! are we whites not the most excellent of man- 
kind? If blacks can survive in Harlem, why should we fail in 
Trinidad? Prometheus, an early (and an able) white man, fetched 
down the fire from heaven for our conquest of the cold; our 
scientists, now, and much better paid too, have fetched down ice. 
Some day, no doubt about it, we shall build cities in the tropics 
artificially cooled, as cities in the North for ages have been 
warmed. Rather than hurrying to church in an overcoat, as we 
do in the North, we shall peel, and trip over in a sort of fairy 
underwear, to be met by an usher with a wool cloak suitable to 
the services and the church's healthful chill. 

Another means to our physical salvation might be the breeding 
in of tropical blood, as the Jamaicans cross their cattle with the 
zebu to make them heat-resistant. The Harlem colony, as is no 
secret, softens the climate to its offspring by diverting toward it 
the talisman of northern blood. But whereas the Negro can have 
white blood among his assets and be a Negro still, we whites do not 
permit ourselves a like precaution in the tropics. In our eyes, one 


whisk of the tarbrush, seven generations back, is enough to 
queer us. 

It seems an unproud position for a proud race to maintain. If 
white blood is so inestimably superior to black, even a little of it 
ought to amend gallons of the latter. 

Here it must be remarked, nevertheless, that while air condi- 
tioning is yet a thing of the future in the West Indies, the saving 
vigor of mixed blood, though no guarantee of social acceptability, 
is an old, well-tried, and widely enjoyed benefit. Black blood, 
like the zebu's, gives heat-resistance, white gives mental quick- 
ness. Such, that is, is the opinion. But when I heard the most 
celebrated of the Nassau lawyers (a colored man, and a colored 
man is the cleverest lawyer in Jamaica) diabolically confounding 
white opposing lawyers' arguments, I wondered whether his 
cunning had come altogether from the "right end of the 

If we allowed such mixed-bloods the name of white in the 
black world of the isles, as in the white world of the North we 
call them black, the waves of immigration that swept in from 
Europe only to sink away, would perhaps seem not so futile as 
they now do to white historians and geographers. I should guess 
that there is as much white blood in the Antilles now .as ever. 
Only, of course, it flows for the most part in the veins of colored 

But even without the aid of mixed blood or an artificially cooled 
architecture, is it a certainty that we whites must languish in the 
tropics? Is the self-acknowledged premier race of the world nearer 
allied to the hog in point of climate adaptability than the sooty 

No! For never let it be said that this inquirer, in whose veins 
courses no corpuscle not authentically Scotch, Dutch, or English, 
failed, while in the isles, to collect data to disprove an opinion 


both so widespread and so humiliating. My findings herewith 


TREE AKP BOAT <T I M 8 Z fc 9 

Oceanward, beyond the out-facing eastmost chain of the 
Bahamas, are some detached islets, among which Harbor Island, 
Hope Town, New Plymouth, and Spanish Wells have long been 
inhabited. Rather than settling on the "mainland" of Eleuthera or 
Abac6, the old colonists built their houses and laid the keels of 
their sailing vessels on these cays to seaward. 

Of all West Indian ports, here are the most oceanic. Across to 
them drift the glass net floats the Portuguese fishermen use: the 
immense slow deep-sea current that revolves past Lisbon and 
around the Sargasso Sea flows by these Bahamian dunes, and the 
trade wind blows the globular green waifs ashore. I picked one up 
on Harbor Island beach myself, stripped it of barnacles, and held 
it to the sun to see its color. For all its common bottle glass, it was 
a marine creature, a swimmer from the sea toil of the Old World 
to this sailors' island of the New. 

But Harbor Island is an old place in New World terms. The 
United States Navy's initial exploit, in 1776, was to capture 
Nassau not to annex the Bahamas but to seize British stores. 
The deed done in bungling good order, our squadron retired, 
whereupon Spain, edging back toward her lost outpost at St. 
Augustine, moved in in our stead. But not for long. A Carolina 
loyalist, with forces recruited chiefly in Harbor Island, set the 


Union Jack fluttering in its old place again; in thanks for which 
aid the Crown rewarded the Harbor Islanders with agricultural 
lands to be held in common on Eleuthera across the bay. 

Even now, daybreak sees the port's gardeners setting sail to 
work those fields; and evening, when the lamplighter climbs to 
light his beacon, sees them sailing home again over the sunset's 
mirrored color. With the gurgle of brine in the wharf timbers, up 
conies the sound of tropical Cockney, where yams and firewood 
and bananas are being unloaded: the islanders misplace their Ws 
and reverse their its and to's as scrupulously as do the Wellers in 
Pickwick Papers. 

But Harbor Island is not so much like England as it is New 
England. The boiled dinners there, of salt beef and cabbage, were 
a happy Down East surprise. The Protestant tin tones of the 
church bells, the deep Sabbath calms, the Cape Cod cottages and 
white picket fences, were all in the best Yankee tradition. 

However, it was like the New England of an older time, when 
"ring games" were the young folks' fun, and maritime rather than 
industrial affairs busied their elders. Boats are the island preoccu- 
pation: yachts that are the colony's pride are built on the harbor 
beach. When school is out, down pelt the children hoping to be 
allowed to stir the paint or perhaps to steady a mast that, laid on 
the grass, is being planed to a fine tapering slimness by some uncle 
or big brother. The tots meanwhile rig boats of coconut husks: 
their world has no wheeled vehicle in it to distract interest from 
the marine. 

Young Charles Sweeting, with sailor cap perched above his 
sunny face, one afternoon took me sailing. As usual, it was boats 
he talked of, I urging him on; for the topic, with its salty sea 
terms, is one of the best on earth for wholehearted rhapsody. When 
he spoke of the Pieces-of-Eight or the Bishop's trim St. 'Mary of 
Stafford, whose building he had watched, a greensickness came 
over him such as dizzied poor Pepys when the string band divinely 


fell to playing. The boat we were in he handled centaur-like, as 
if he and it were all one vigorous animal 

"Hard-a-lee!" he would sing out in a voice like a cheery- 
trumpet; and when the breeze caught us and we tipped up and 
flew lolloping over the turquoise brine, he looked as full of mas- 
tery as a commodore. "If I could sail around the world in a little 
boat like this," he interrupted a song to cry, "Fd never forget 
her! I'd put her up when she was old, and I ... I ... Fd paint 
her every day\" 

Such poetry and such a sea enthusiasm sent a chill of pleasure up 
my spine. It was as if I had come to Salem in the days when the 
sea fever burnt so ardently in the young New England blood. 

But in Harbor Island there were things that would have looked 
odd in Salem. "Goats and Coconuts" said the sign on the wharf- 
head warehouse. When old Mr. Ingraham brought me a bag of 
fruit, as he often and kindly did, it was not New England apples 
but tropic-sweet sapodillas, the flesh at their hearts as smooth to 
the tongue as butter. Mrs. Sweeting, when she baked, retired to 
the back garden among cannas and huge wine-red Nassau lilies 
and fired an outdoor oven. "I put dry palm blossoms on top of 
the wood," she told me, "for the 'flare.' " 

Despite the boiled dinners, her cooking also had a non-New 
England flavor. In hot places, so they say, the fading appetite 
needs hot condiments to revive it: the Jamaican and Caymanian 
sauces that stand innocently on the dinner tables of old families 
set a visitor's eyes to streaming, no doubt about that; Mrs. Sweet- 
ing's macaroni and cheese was peppery indeed.* Or perhaps the 
lack of refrigeration in the old days helped to breed a taste for 
the fiery: Cayman and the Bahamas, where the taste is most pro- 
nounced far more so than in the Spanish islands were too poor 

* At banquets in Antigua in the eighteenth century, a pepper-pod was put at each 
guest's plate for a zest refresher. 


in well water to afford even that minor aid in cooling. Pepper 
was a preservative. 

Least of all like New England, however, were the community's 
Negroes. At first I was surprised to find them there. They seemed 
out of place. But by the time I had learned to enjoy Mr. Ingra- 
ham's buttery dillies, I had grown used to seeing black tots as 
well as white ones sailing coconut boats, and black laborers re- 
turning at sunset from the Eleutherian fields across the bay. What 
surprised me then was to observe how few of them there were. 

Nassau, for all its old aristocracy, is a black city as anybody 
who has sauntered Bay Street on a Saturday night must agree. The 
Bahamas as a whole, in fact, are black. But here at Harbor Island 
there were as many whites as Negroes: such a proportion is white 
indeed in the Antilles, where the normal thing (except in olive- 
skinned Cuba and Puerto Rico) is to find two hundred black and 
tans for every dozen white people. 

Hope Town, the Alice Mable*s captain had told me, maintains 
an ideal even more exclusive; Negroes are given rough welcome 
there. As for Spanish Wells, it is "pure white"; the laboring class 
on that market-garden cay is as Caucasian as the banker class is 
in Nassau. I watched the Wells' sunburnt boatmen one day, in 
faded blue shirts and trousers, f etching out baskets of vegetables 
and papayas to our city-bound vessel, and very tough, merry, and 
sinewy they were, with bare feet braced in the strain of bringing 
their cargoes alongside in the flowing tide. 

But even at Harbor Island, where there were Negroes in plenty 
for manual labor, the white citizens persisted in doing their share 
of it. Yacht building and repairs most emphatically were not 
delegated to black hands. Nor did Mrs. Sweeting turn the arts of 
her kitchen over to anyone but her own capable self. Mr. Ingra- 
ham sent no slavey for the sapodillas, but trudged into the country 
for them on his own old feet. 

After I had noticed this, I noticed the wide gap between the 


drawn, evidently, in sexual as well as yacht-building affairs. As for 
a spiritual division, the last Wesleyan minister had tried to thaw 
out the racial coldness present: all souls being white, as we whites 
say, why should the house of souls be entered by a more honorable 
and less honorable door? The upshot of this front-door back-door 
business was, that he soon preached to few but black ears, and so 
left the charge less thawed-out than ever. 

Tired of being cut off from their white neighbors either as 
intimates or indispensable servants, the black Harbor Islanders 
have fallen back on the inferior reputation assigned to them and 
tease their white superiors a little with petty theft. Their ancestors 
were the slaves of the ancestors of the island whites; this obscure 
community on its dunes by the revolving ocean, has had more 
than two centuries in which to come to equilibrium. So also have 
Hope Town and Spanish Wells. Since these communities have sur- 
vived so long, their habits cannot be dismissed as merely pleasant 
or unpleasant. They have practical significance. With which 
thought to chew on, we set sail for Saba. 

Saba, a Dutch island to the east of the Anegada Passage, makes 
a show on maps, because for all its small circumference it sticks 
too high into the air for the cartographers to overlook. One of the 
Antilles' best and oldest jokes is that Saba's capital, at the top of 
a toilsome nine-hundred-foot series of flagstone stairs, is called 
The Bottom. But "the bottom" it is, in Saban terms; the other 
towns are all up farther flights St. John's, Windward Side, or 
(nearest to heaven of all) HelPs Gate. 

Up these formidable stairs a few circus horses have been 
trained to climb. The captain of my ship had hired the lot for 


himself, his Dutch guests, Dutch wife, and dainty small Dutch 
daughter. The party viewed their mounts with some trepidation 
and the road ahead with more: horses' backs at home stayed usu- 
ally at a level. Poor Netherlanders! their trip up was anxious 
enough, but when Dobbin turned 'round and skipped downstairs 
with rump up and head in China, there was nothing to do but 
cover the eyes with one hand and catch at the saddle with the 

Unhampered by a horse, I got on much more nimbly. Here 
was The Bottom, with morning's dews yet fresh upon it a town 
half provision garden in a hollow. And here was Windward Side 
on its ridge, another nine hundred feet nearer to the sky. In 
illimitable miles of bright sun glitters the Caribbean quivered far 
below; up from its surf the $teep cliffs leaned, then steep slopes 
of grass studded with bursts of sisal; next, tropical shrubs, woods 
growing at a frightful angle, and then pastures more moderately 
tilted. And here was the town and I puffing into it, while Saba's 
peak still loomed above, piercing a soft mist of cloud. 

What a town! For sweet looks it was a veritable lollipop. 
Begonias and slim crocuses bloomed atop the mossy walls, fat 
cows posed majestically in paddocks the size of parlor carpets. 
As for the houses, so spotless-white, with their masonry gable ends 
and hooded chimneys their shutters, iron lamps, picket gates, 
and flowers obviously they had been grouped as they were to 
stage an operetta. At the proper signal in some blithe overture, 
every door should have sprung open and out of each should have 
danced tenor and soprano sweethearts, kicking their feet in reck- 
less unison and trilling: 

Try the Golden Rule, folks, 
No need of feeling blue: 

Come to Saba, 

Love your neighba 
/ . . . love . . . you! 


But there seemed to be no performance scheduled for that 
morning. Instead, sheds were being painted, gardens were being 
weeded, windows were being washed. On verandas pretty girls 
in their prettiest frocks were busy at the drawn work for which 
the island is famous. 

Fronting a flowery lane a shank's-mare world requires no 
streets was a general store. Feeling somewhat uncouth, I entered. 
Frilled curtains hung at the well-polished windows, the scrubbed 
floor was as white underfoot, almost, as the fresh-painted low 
ceiling was overhead. The place, in fact, seemed too nice to last. 
In spite of the real kerosene and the real soap chips for sale, it 
seemed related to a general store at home much in the way Marie 
Antoinette's dairy would to a Minnesota dairy. These pretty 
looks, however, like the sweet looks of the town, were no smirk 
aimed at the tourist trade. Not two hundred strangers climb to 
Windward Side in a year. Nor were they signs of a more abundant 
life decreed and financed by the government at The Hague. Such 
amenities are habitual in Saba. 

The hospitable amenities are remembered also. I had not been in 
Windward Side ten minutes before I was sipping a cup of coffee 
in somebody's house up five flowery tiers of terraces. Cookies 
came with it, served by the young ladies of the family; my host 
and I clinked glasses of rich berry wine. "Good health and long 
life!" was the toast we drank. 

But good health and long life are commonplace things on the 
island. It is an old colony, of a history generally serene. In 1700 
it was a community of cobblers: the very governor made shoes, 
and the Lutheran pastor, too, gossip said. But the sea now, the 
wide world over, gives the Saban men their trade. 

While husbands and fathers go to sea, wives and daughters 
stay at home: it is a woman-managed world, which undoubtedly 
explains why it is so orderly and pretty. For the men are gone 


years at a time; their island has no harbor to make a port for 
vessels of their own, thus they sail on the ships of the outside 
world. But their savings come home regularly, which with the 
pin money the women's needlework will fetch, comfortably sup- 
ports the colony. 

But Saba has not only its ships' officers and seamen and its 
home-staying women but Negroes too, in about Harbor Island's 
proportion. They are the island porters: when a Hell's Gate 
citizen orders a set of Shakespeare, it has to be carried up on 
somebody's head from the beach landing at the real bottom of 
the stairs. No West Indian island has sunnier or politer blacks 
than these Saban athletes. But blacks they are, not light-browns. 
They inhabit The Bottom for the most part, while the upper 
towns are reserved by the white islanders for themselves. 

Though they find it useful, Negro aid is something the white 
Sabans can do without; competence is their common virtue. Work 
degrades nobody. And where every errand or Sunday call in- 
volves climbing some mountain staircase, hearts grow as leathery 
as boxing gloves. Exercise and sea winds keep cheeks from grow- 
ing pasty. People live to a great age in Saba, whatever may be 
their color. 

*," I hear you grumble, "if these Sabans live on the top of 
a mountain, no wonder their cheeks are rosy. They live above 
the heat. As for Harbor Island and those other white settlements 
in the Bahamas, they are not in the tropics at all; they are as far 
north as Miami." 
True enough. I have not cited the most impressive examples, 


perhaps.* But if Harbor Island won't do, what of Cayman? Well 
blistered by an authentically tropic sun, that colony, together 
with its customs, industry, food, speech, and proportion between 
black and white, very nearly duplicates the Bahamian out-island. 
The sunburnt boatmen of Cayman Brae and Spanish Wells niight 
easily be brothers. The Caymanian women, again, vigorously 
dispatch their housework, independent to a marked degree of 
black help. I see Mrs. Jones now, on a ladder, knocking down 
breadfruit for my dinner. 

As for lofty Saba, its near neighbor St. Barts is a whiter island 
though not half so high. Moreover the white Normans there live 
generally at sea level where the heat is greatest. 

Laborious farmers, herders, hat weavers, and fishermen, the St. 
Bartians are downright peremptory in their independence of 
Negro help. They hold aloof from the few colored townsmen and 
do their own sweating. As for maintaining the race, they have 
managed that since the mid-seventeenth century, never guessing 
that it was supposed to be impossible. Instead of succumbing to 
the climate, they have planted their children elsewhere in it when 
St. Barts itself grew overcrowded. The Cha Chas of St. Thomas 
are such an overflow, notorious in their new home, even disliked, 
for their humble standards of life, tireless industry, and the bull- 
dog grip they keep on their racial independence. 

For a tombstone designer to solve ethnographic puzzles is rash 
indeed. But why not try? My guess is that in these successful 
white colonies the saving element is iDork\ and by this I mean 
not tasks managerial or professional such as have always been 
performed in the tropics by the whites, but the work that demands 
bodily exertion. In our tombstone man's judgment it paves the 

*A. GrenfeU Price, whose excellent study of White Settlers in the Tropics has 
been published since this chapter was written, declares that Saba and Miami both 
enjoy the true tropical climate. He also says that the Sabans have dyspepsia from 
eating too many biscuits. But his findings in the Caribbean often parallel mine, I am 
relieved to note; and though his conclusions are cautiously reserved, they do not 
conflict with those made by this unscientific visitor. 


way toward survival for two reasons that it is healthful in itself, 
despite long tradition to the contrary, and that it discourages the 
native Tropicals from an overwhelming multiplication. 

"Sweating very healthy!" the darkys say, suiting the action to 
the word. And healthy they are, and so are the white Saban 
housewives or white market gardeners of Spanish Wells. Lady 
Nugent, the famed diarist of old Jamaica, was in a constant panic 
over her husband the governor: while his colleagues reclined in 
the shade to drink sangaree and complain of the heat, Sir George 
galloped about discharging his arduous duties without regard for 
climate. It was the daily miracle in Kingston that this strenuous- 
ness did not kill him, when men so much more careful of their 
health were dying like flies. "He worked himself to death," 
people said, I suppose, when he succumbed at the age of ninety- 

Yes, the history of the black islands, such as Jamaica, has been 
of white people who turned the exertions of life over to the 
Negroes. It was a natural inclination, reinforced by the best 
medical advice. And it was a point of pride: managing an estate 
was more honorable (and still is thought to be so) than husking 
coconuts. To be top crust in society was to be white, and to be 
white was to be in the sedentary rather than the laborious 

If the top crust of a community in the North had to marry 
wholly within itself and could not dip down now and then for 
the refreshment of middle-class or chorus-girl blood, would it 
keep its bloom I wonder? But if the Jamaican top crust dips one 
sixteenth of an inch beneath itself, it dips into the stratum of the 
colored which dipping God forbid! For the Jamaicans are as 
rigid in preserving the color line as the white Sabans are, even 
though (unlike the Sabans) they are all but overwhelmed by their 

Somehow the Saban color line seems more genuine and less 


thankless. Where the tradition of honorable toil extends back to 
the days when the governor himself made shoes, labor is innately 
self-reliant. Blacks and whites both work in Saba: the color line 
is a vertical cleavage. But in Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, or the 
other Negro isles, where the whites live on an indispensable foun- 
dation of black labor, the color line perforce is horizontal. 

Nassau, these years past, has been brightened by an influx of 
well-to-do sunshine lovers and tax dodgers from the mainland; 
the new immigrants are as white as snow. But will they whiten 

I doubt it. Their coming adds to the existing top crust, true 
enough, but this creates a thousand jobs, say, of the non-top-crust 
kind. Cooks and garden boys are wanted. But few white Nas- 
sauvians are available for such jobs; they belong to the best clubs 
and if in need of wages are not willing to be seen anywhere but 
in some office or swank mercantile employment. No, a thousand 
blacks from Grant's Town over the ridge must be hired, where- 
upon five thousand Grant's Town babies become economic pos- 
sibilities. And such possibilities in the isles, believe me, are realities 
very promptly. Fruitfulness is a natural people's joy. If white 
employers of black labor flooded into Saba, Saba likewise would 
be not whiter but more inky. 

No, if we are not to be swamped in the tropics by the tropics' 
own children, we must be militandy self-sufficient. Perhaps the 
fact that Cuba and Puerto Rico are South European, dominantly, 
is owing not to the relative kindness of the climate to a swart- 
skinned people, but to the unprosperousness of these islands in 
the West Indies' golden age: while such competently-managed 
colonies as Antigua or Jamaica could afford to buy slaves to do all 
tasks except those honorable ones reserved at the very top, the 
ill-governed Puerto Ricans and Cubans had sometimes to con- 
tinue as blacksmiths or coffee pickers. The honorableness of labor 


was in a measure preserved as it was fully in North European 
St. Barts, Saba, Cayman, and Harbor Island. 

Such at least is my theory. And while busy weaving it, I have 
learned something about my own island, I perceive not merely 
that it could be white if I should decide that would be nice, but 
what my life must be on it to enjoy it to a ripe old age. Nine 
bean rows will I have there, well-hoed, and a hive for the honey- 
bee; when I sink into my hammock in the bee-loud glade and 
revel in indolence, I shall have earned my rest. 



Chapter XVI. 


Indies with a sigh I say this is also one of the oldest, Pre 
Labat's Voyage. With another sigh I must admit I haven't read it 
all: it is one of those roomy works, rich in curious observation, 
that only the island life gives time to read. But excerpts have 
brought me some knowledge of this future fun, on rainy days 
among my books, as well as a strong present sense of the reality 
of the author. 

Pere Labat was a man of parts. He was a missionary priest and 
naturalist, a military man who counted guns on the sly in British 
ports, and a businessman who, having picked up shoes in Saba and 
silks dumped in St. Thomas by Captain Kidd, resold them at a 
good profit to his Martinique parishioners. But under the cassock 
of this paragon and behind his hawklike eye, was "an extremely 
witty, charming, and companionable person." His picnics were 
models of alfresco hospitality, served in the manner of his friends 
the buccaneers. 

The notorious Captain Daniel, in fact, was Pre Labat's crony. 
Rather than kidnapping some priest during a voyage to say Mass 
on his ship, the captain found it handier and pleasanter to take 


one along who loved to go. And this missionary loved it. The 
buccaneer had his religious side, the priest his sporting side, the 
upshot of which was that they enjoyed and understood each other. 

Thus in Guadeloupe at the Cafe Greaux in Pointe-a-Pitre, it 
was music to my ears to hear that the schooner Pre Labat was to 
sail next day on a round trip to Marie Galante. The Fhe Labatl 
think of that! Jean Gr6aux's wine, at six cents the big ice-cooled 
glass, fired the enthusiasm in my heart. Was the captain's name 
Daniel by any chance? And with a wallop my fist smote the table 
top. Here, gentlemen, sat an intending passenger. 

Our Minnesota sailor, meanwhile, had been enjoying life 
ashore. I liked the color of Pointe-a-Pitre: iron roofs, dust, shut- 
ters all blended in one calm blue-gray. Against it the Madras 
handkerchiefs of the women's turbans glowed like jewels. 

Then, the old piety of the city took me. I watched the cathedral 
bell ringers in their shorts, climbing the ropes monkeylike to time 
funeral peals. It seemed an antique innocent-hearted way of send- 
ing a soul to heaven. Or I followed the woman who tended the 
shrines along Gosier Highway: from rock cavity to hollow tree 
she hobbled, adjusting die statuettes and putting fresh nosegays 
before them day by day, and at night set votive lights to swim- 
ming in cups of oil. 

Moreover, the ease that descends on a French-governed place 
where color distinctions are not so ever-present a bogey I found 
very relaxing as usual, and would peacefully watch mixed-tint 
soccer games in the park, while some pale-skinned young mother 
on the bench beside me happily bounced her dark-skinned baby. 
Sandbox boughs rustled overhead,* seltzer bottles squirted at the 
sidewalk tables of the Richepanse and Tulipe Rouge. But the 
Cafe Greaux was the bright spot in Pointe-a-Pitre for me because 
in it I was not looked upon as a stranger. 

* This tree's fruit reminded the old colonists of the sandboxes on their desks, from 
which they sifted sand on fresh-written sheets to dry the ink: blotting paper had 
not then been invented. 


I had arrived in Guadeloupe full of anxiety and quinine. It was 
even soggier than I had been told; the sky split, that dismal hour; 
rain poured like Niagara, incessant thunderclaps bombarded the 
gray iron roofs. But then all at once the attack was over. Dry- 
clothed, I went back to the quays to watch the storm retire, where 
very promptly Ferdinand Brin and I found ourselves looking at 
each other in pleased surprise. 

Ferdinand was the young mariner who had sailed me from 
St. Barts to Philipsburg in his little boat. He had shipped to 
Guadeloupe, however, on the square-topsailed Javelin, to do a 
little business and enjoy the girls. It was the hour set for the 
Javelin's return now, but both of us knew how little that meant. 
There was plenty of time for a reunion. 

The Cafe Greaux, into which he ushered me, I had passed on 
the way down, never guessing it was to be my haunt. It is not 
the great who make me shy, but the rowdy: coarse repartee in 
half a dozen languages was the specialty of this sailors' roost. But 
the sad-eyed proprietor, like Ferdinand, so I found, was St. Barts 
born; when he learned that I had visited Des Cayes, his native 
village, Jean seized both my hands in his: here was not so much 
a patron as a messenger from home. 

After Ferdinand had gone, with a red wine stain across his lap 
for a souvenir of our parting, I continued to frequent the place. 
Its ornamental store of bottled goods, piled from floor to ceiling, 
set off my temperate habits as neatly as the city's gray mono- 
chrome did the girls' gay turbans. To rest up after one walk or 
another, while I swigged a glass, I'd spread my map out to plan 
the next, glancing up now and again through the two thick- 
arched doors to admire the market scenes over the way. 

My map had been bought with some difficulty from a book- 
seller who thought it cost too much. However and I went back 
to comfort her with the news it paid for itself the first time I 
unfolded it at Jean's. The Swedes and Panamanians went on play- 


ing dominoes, of course, but the local tars to whom chart naviga- 
tion is a thing unknown gathered in an enchanted circle. To see 
the rocks and headlands they had steered around all their lives 
spaced on paper exactly to scale and in reference to one another 
made them cluck like hens. "So God must see Guadeloupe from 
on high!" one roughneck babbled. 

Disputes of long standing were settled on the spot, and the 
point of a sailor knife traced various eventful trips: around the 
"Souffleur" to Moule, to Basseterre the capital, or the cluster of 
the Saintes cruising among which last named isles the white 
fishermen wear hats shaped like parachutes, and Captain Daniel 
in his day (Pere Labat not being with him) had kidnapped the 
priest to discharge his and his crew's Sunday obligation. 

Or, round as a pancake, here was Marie Galante, to which 
island my schooner was to sail. Jean's uncle, a sort of port gazette, 
discussed the venture with me. The captain was not named Daniel, 
no, but a fine man, a very fine man; he came from St. Barts in fact. 
And the Pre Labat had an auxiliary engine. With such a skipper 
and such a ship, it would be a voyage de luxe. Departure was at 

At sunrise, punctually, we sailed. The plural pronoun was full 
of meaning. I had come down an hour earlier to insure having 
a good place aboard, but in the dim light of dawn seemed to be 
seeing double at least. 

It had been a poor night for rest. Dance music, not far away, 
had lulled me at first, but when the party was over the musicians 
were wound up too tight to stop. A bedroom "jam" ensued 


across the court, which made me rouse myself to jot scraps of 
tunes. Thrillingly spontaneous, here was a feast of island jazz 
almost at my elbow. 

Presently, however, the plain bread-and-butter of silence would 
have suited me better. If I was to get up at daybreak I wanted to 
be fresh. But freshness continued to be these tooder's resource, 
hour after hour. In fact their vigor mounted until at last from 
a dense climax of trills they broke to a suddenly tired coda of 
freak caterwauls: the feast was done. 

Silence's bread-and-butter which came after proved to be not 
wholly a metaphor. In his pajamas, here was the waiter laying a 
tray of it, with cafe-m-lait, faithfully on my bosom. Time to get 
up, damn it! "Many thanks," I told the pest, grimacing a smile. 

But the coffee cleared my cobwebby brain, as I knew it had 
when I looked at the schooner a second time. Double vision, my 
eye! Scrutiny suggested, rather, that here was Noah's ark after 
the deluge was well in progress, and all Israel had begun clamor- 
ing for rides; except that this time the multitude was being wel- 
comed entire, together with household effects, musical instru- 
ments, and domestic animals. 

Should I go or stay? The rim of a bass horn in my ribs prodded 
the doubtful sailor forward: inch by inch the horn player and I, 
and the rest of us yet earth-bound hopefuls, edged toward the 
gangplank and slowly up it, snatching the switched tails of strug- 
gling calves from our disgusted mouths. From hand to hand an 
endless series of baskets was passed forward of cardboard suit- 
cases, trussed-up fowls, sacks of breadfruit. The schooner had 
settled almost to her scuppers already. Perhaps and it was a 
comfort to imagine it she'd sink before casting off. 

"This is a pleasure-trip I'm taking," I told the man with the 
horn. We had found a square foot of space, each, to stand in, 
forward by the forecastle hatch. "Very fond of sailing! ".And 
at that moment the sun peered through a rift in the vermilion 


clouds, to gild to thek summit the vast slopes of the Soufriere 
across the bay. The church bells clanged, the harbor waves 
danced, and the Ptre Labafs engine, which would take us out, 
competently began to hum. 

Mangrove isles marked the harbor entry, here our sails were 
raised. When the canvas shook out its towers of radiant and 
whopping curves, so complex and yet so natural, it was curious 
to recall that the New World had been discovered before the art 
of tacking. From Phoenician times to King Henry VIIFs, ships 
had either to sail with the wind or be rowed which fact makes 
it easy to forgive Columbus's crews for their bellyaching, when 
the northeast trades day after day blew no way but away from 

Thanks to the English discovery, we now sailed into the wind. 
Glorious! As well as I could, without cracking some black jaw 
with my head, I leaned back to quaff lungfuls of salt sea air. But 
my friend with the horn sent his instrument below and his friends 
sent theirs: they had brought saxophones with them, clarinets, 
guitars, and drums. In fact, here was the very band that had kept 
me wakeful. I was awed to learn it. And then they took off thek 
shirts and shoes to be stowed in the forecastle by the mousse and 
rolled trousers up, as did the rest of us crowded young blades on 
the forward deck. It made drainage easier when a wave broke 
through our legs, the schooner having wallowed too deep wholly 
to surmount steep ones. 

"I want to lie down/' moaned the tired horn player, letting his 
weight roll back among the crush of the rest of us. But then a 
sheet of salt spray smote him, as it did us all; he broke out laugh- 
ing and shook the water from his ears. 

Good humor was the rule for an hour or two. The Pointe des 
Chateaux, though distant, kept the trans-oceanic sea swells in 
check. Amidships, to be sure, the black gkls, well supplied with 
basins, were already vomiting in one anothers' laps, and the live- 


stock vented its distress in various grunts, bleats, bellows, squeals, 
and ordures. But the day was fine, the seas magnificent; our sails 
bellied in the grand Aeolian style. The captain, packed among the 
elder passengers astern, seemed to tower among them and, Noah- 
like, to preside. 

After awhile I felt less cheerful. In New York one year I had 
made the mistake of living at the other end of a subway ride, and 
had read Pepys' Diary, complete with correspondence, crammed 
daily into a space even smaller than that occupied by me now. But 
no trip that year had kept me clinging to a strap for five mortal 
hours, shooting pains in my shoulder blades and foot bones break- 
ing. And the subway, though it left Pepys the filthiest row of 
volumes that ever disgraced a library, had not doused me with a 
bucket of cold brine every second minute: cleanliness on the new 
terms seemed to be bought too dearly. Nor had the stale sweet 
subway smell bothered me much, which could not be said for 
the gusts of cockroach and old onion that the forecastle now 
began to yield. One whiff more could I stand it? 

No. Nor could the jazz band. From their black and my sun- 
burnt red we all turned green together. Way was made for us 
somehow to the rail, over which, first knee-deep in the scupper 
wash, then raised like hollow-eyed gargoyles spouting from a 
chapel roof, epitaph writer and tootlers joined in a common 

There was some satisfaction, however, in being the last to suc- 
cumb. Under the taut-stretched watch chains of the captain's 
friends astern, substantial bellies had quaked long since. The 
chickens were in a stupor. The pigs were in a frenzy. The women, 
like wax figures heaped higgledy-piggledy in a too-hot store- 
room, sagged one against the other; their very cheeks seemed to 
melt and hang. The poor children lay as blue as corpses. With a 
sudden spasm of historical understanding, I thought of the voyages 


of slave-ship days: it had been no unusual thing, once, to dump 
out a fourth part of such "cargoes," dead on the way from Africa. 

Around our own heavy tub of woe, the seas that had swallowed 
the victims of those old frightful journeys were as innocently blue 
as ever. Pell-mell from hill to hill of lapis lazuli the The Labat 
drove, gallantly and (by a squeak each time) triumphant. Noah, 
our captain, stood staunch and admirable; the cook and the 
mousse, his sons, went about their work as if our world were level, 
stationary, fragrant, dry, and spacious. 

Noah's boys had grown up in St. Barts at a place called Salines, 
where the very land industry is evaporating sea water to make 
salt.* Broad-browed, wkh yellow locks that had often to be 
brushed back from their shy gray eyes, they wore tall-crowned 
Cha Cha hats and blue-striped Cha Cha clothes. In fact they were 
true St. Bartians. "Ti Bknc" the black passengers called one or 
the other indiscriminately -"Whitey," for a French Negro can 
speak so to a white boy without being, or being thought, presump- 
tuous. But the mousse, aged twelve, actually was named Marcel. 
Like an acrobat he walked tightrope about the ship, carrying to 
his father the coffee that his brother made or answering calls from 
the bellowing black engineer and purser. 

Albert the cook was two years older, a being of enviable 
serenity. 'While Marcel rolled up in a tarpaulin and held it tight, 
he turned his back to be drenched, with the fortitude of indiffer- 
ence. Amid pandemonium, pukings, and sheets of spray, this 
fourteen-year-old cranked his coffee grinder. 

The galley he used, built against the foremast, was a not-large 
box with two hatch lids on top and in front two sliding panels. 
When the spray came down in bucketfuls, lids and panels invart* 
ably had been closed; but then promptly they were opened for a 
jiffy, and culinary enterprises were pursued. 

*This West Indian industry once ranked very high, supplying the salt for the 
North Sea herring fisheries. One British colony, Turks and Caicos Islands, still depends 
wholly on it, shipping out over a hundred thousand dollars worth of salt per annum. 


One lid and panel gave access to a fuel bin and larder. There 
were sacks of provisions in it, French bread, kindling, and a half 
pound of lard scraped on a sea-grape leaf. The other compart- 
ment held the fire and tinware. As usual in the tropics it was a 
charcoal fire in a coal-pot, burning with flameless faithfulness. 
Steam from the coffeepot or boiling lentils, or the strong scents 
of codfish or bully-beef hash would ooze out of the lid cracks 
when the box was shut. And the wonder was, that these scents 
began to make me hungry. 

But the change was no wonder, really. Breakfast was six hours 
gone now, a French breakfast too, and lost before assimilated. 
Moreover, we had entered the lee calm of Marie Galante: lapis 
lazuli billows gave way to shallows of rippled turquoise. The 
children started to suck mangoes again, even the sickest of the 
black girls opened an eye. 

At St. Louis, in a tumult of relief, enough passengers and live- 
stock were sent ashore to give the rest of us space to move. Oh, 
luxury! to have a strip of gunwale for my own, and to ease my 
stiff pins to a sitting position! Jean's uncle had spoken well. It was 
a voyage de luxe. What a radiant day! What a green, green isle! 
with a lunch at Grand Bourg in delicious prospect, to allay my 
hunger pangs and slake the thirst that was making my tongue 
feel like the cushion in an old plush chair. 

But the physical ease of that hour's ride to Grand Bourg was 
matched and canceled by its mental stress. Now that the turmoil 
was over, the mousse decided to make friends. He conquered his 
shyness, turned his hatbrim up and, searing himself cross-legged 
on the deck, plied the American with questions. 

Obligingly I ransacked the assortment of French odds and ends 
in my head, those little noises which strung together can have 
innumerable meanings or none whatever, depending on how you 
string them. Like a tired rat out of a dark cellar, I came up again 
and again with the biscuit of a sentence in my teeth each time 


more pleased with myself but also more exhausted. Family, pro- 
fession, home, and hobbies were discussed, and the sports of a 
Minnesota winter. Fox-and-geese heavens, what energy was con- 
sumed in the describing of that back-yard game! 

But the mousse was helpful, quick, and interested, and con- 
stantly gave me the relief of other exercise, namely, following his 
remarks. Bit by bit Salines came to life in his report of it, with 
rose-colored ponds behind the house saltier than the sun-smitten 
blue bay in front: in blinding crystallinity the salt crust at last 
was ready to be raked. He played the tambourine, did I? And his 
travels had taken him as far as St. Thomas already, it was the part 
of "my country" that he knew. Guadeloupe, I then learned (not 
half Rhode Island's size) was the largest land mass yet seen by 
this young mariner. 

Albert, scrubbing salt fish meanwhile, frowned and listened. 
The responsibilities of age gave him scant time for talk. Another 
cook aboard, however, protracted the linguistic chores. Creole 
French was his variety, which made MarcePs Norman seem 
schoolbookish indeed. 

I required a valet, of course, he told me, appraising my mussed 
clothes with a cocksure eye. A valet who could mix rum punches 
or whip up an omelet would be especially handy; a bodyguard, 
too, was worth having in this gangster age f or instance, a black, 
tough, ugly son of a gun like himself. Moreover for he now 
strenuously proposed his candidacy he wanted very much to 
live in the North where, thanks to certain superiorities in his 
sexual physique, he felt that in his spare time he could add hand- 
somely to the small pay that was all he'd require from me. With 
an impetuous gesture, he offered to show me what he meant. 

Appalled, I yet managed to inquire banteringly if he could 
furnish references. But certainly! The house of ill fame where at 
present he was in service would be delighted to get rid of him. 


No kindness would be too great for Madame in this long wished 
for emergency. 

"You believe in frankness," I said, giving him a tap, whereupon 
the rhinoceros-hide of his cheek was wrinkled by a wink. But 
then reviewing his past more thoughtfully he heaved a sigh. It was 
perfect training for a valet. His knowledge of affairs of the heart, 
for instance, not to mention the more technical side of love . . . 
and so on; after a half hour of listening to which talk and re- 
lieving it with struggling levity, I had a headache like knitting 
needles skewered through the brain. 

Food! food! and silence, and a plank to lie on! The wish burnt 
my soul up like a paper doll in a furnace. "This man bores me," 
I wearily told the mousse. 

"You too, sir!" he rapped back, suddenly deciding not to be 
my valet. Marcel rolled over in a fit of laughter, and the jazz band, 
with shirts now on again, broke into tired applause. 

Grand Bourg is no great place. One street as blue-gray as any 
in Pointe-a-Pitre led toward the church, in which broad peaceful 
building I soon stretched out for a moment of grateful solitude. 
In mysterious silence and the half-darkness, the saints painted 
primitively on the walls seemed to confer and shuffle. 

"Grand Bourg" what a name! These West Indies had had 
much bad luck of the kind: the British peppered them with 
George Towns and Charles Towns, and the French, from whom 


something more spritely might have been hoped, had been con- 
tent with Big Bay and Little Hole, High Ground and Low 
Ground very often. Luckier were the places Columbus chris- 
tened, this island for one Marie Galante named for the com- 
fortable flagship of his second voyage. 

Over the door to Grand Bourg's one eating place was a fre- 
quently seen island name, Schoelcher. Not pretty, it yet had 
meaning. After Napoleon had clamped back on the isles the 
skvery that liberte, egalite, and frttternite had just removed for- 
ever, revolution tore it off again in Haiti: that was one story. But 
in the other French islands Schoelcher of Martinique in time re- 
won freedom by more parliamentary means. 

The Restaurant Schoelcher seemed no great credit to the man. 
In the French colonies the cuisine is seldom a match for the 
mother country's, 'and so differs very much from British cooking 
which, no daisy at home, comes to its true flowering when trans- 
planted.* Today's lunch, moreover, was to be not merely sub- 
average but the Worst Meal of the Year. 

However, this desolating fact was not revealed at once. I felt 
very hopeful when I sauntered in. A decanter of rum stood on 
every table for a welcoming touch, and the cook was the fattest 
Negress not yet in a circus. Water, plain water, was what I asked 
for first, and she brought it, a creepy gray liquid that made my 
gizzard turn. Rum seemed safer, decidedly. Likewise she brought 
her baby to be praised; but the poor tot, to whom all white males 
were The Doctor, fell down with a whop three times on her 
screaming flight to safety. 

Upon this exit, the jazz band rollickingly burst in. Could these 
be my recent shipmates, limp, seasick, worn to ravelings? At a 
rum-shop nearer the wharf they had reflated to dizzy life again, 
like flies swatted but not really smashed. Shirttails whirled, glasses 

* The cooking at the South Camp Road Hotel, in Kingston, Jamaica to mention 
one not-expensive, long-famous, and readily accessible eating place retains die true 
British "plain'' quality, but amid how delightful a profusion of new tropical graces! 


banged, affection was effusive. And like a jovial ape swinging in 
on a liana, here came my black cook friend from the ship, again 
anxious to be hired. He was more lewd, more noisy, and more 
nagging than ever. My head reeled with the rum and the excite- 

As for the lunch and I looked at my portion of it like a man 
peering down a cliff it was uneatable. With greasy gusto the jazz 
band messed in theirs, however, and pelted one another with dry- 
sucked fish heads. Then, full and joyous, they snatched up their 
instruments and fell to tootling. It brought all Grand Bourg push- 
ing in at the doors. 

What a spectacle! What a rare chance in an unheard-of sea- 
port! Teeth glistened, thumbs snapped, within slimsy clothing 
lithe bodies swayed in overmastering rhythms. And here sat I, 
heavier than a tombstone. 

Implacably, meanwhile, the Pre Labat was cramming herself 
again with goods and people. The return voyage impended hers 
and mine, God be merciful! Must I, could I, rise and force myself 
through crowd and music, and so to a goal so hateful? On my 
sunken head the jazz rained ever more stupefying blows. 

It was strange, thus, to observe how my fibers did their duty. 
With firm somnambulism I paid the bill, bade the fat cook and 
the pornographic cook adieu, and marched right down to cook 
number one, young Shem, and Ham the mousse and their father 
Noah. Like some harrowing movie rerun for my special benefit, 
here was the seagoing subway crush again, with its calves and 
hogs and chickens. 

But now grief ended. I had a place to sit this time, thanks to the 
mousse } s interest. The wind was with us; the coffee steam smelled 
good from first to last. And so as the fact that I tell about it 
proves my day's sail was not fatal after all. My one complaint 
is, that lacking Pre Labat's power of wit I can't be sure of 
having made the anecdote worth the pains. 


Chapter XVII. 


in American St. Croix for the Fourth of July. 

Flag Day also had found me on American soil, bosom filled 
with uncommon fervor. But there in St. Thomas my bosom 
swelled daily at 8 A.M., when punctually a bugle blew in the 
little red fort and through the window I'd see Old Glory being 
raised to ripple against the blue. It was an event highly inspira- 
tional, always, to a patriot not yet out of bed. 

Cousins of my mother's, the Holmes of San Juan, had come 
over for the ceremonies during which Old Glory was flown for 
the first time from that flagstaff. It was 1917; the islands had been 
bought from Denmark; the exchange of sovereignty was to be 
made. "My dear," exclaimed Cousin Margaret, telling me about 
it, "it was terribly sad. I cried as if I were at a wedding." 

She and Cousin Fred, in fact, had been moved both by the 
day's deeper meaning and the danger of falling off the roof to 
which they had climbed for a bird's-eye view. However, other 
thoughts came to mind. They had been in Santiago de Cuba when 
General Wood relinquished the reins of government into Cuban 
hands, at which solemn hour a brass bell was snitched from the 


general's desk for a souvenir. After mentioning this to the Bishop 
of Puerto Rico who was seated between them on the roof, and 
telling him how she still used it to call the maid, Cousin Margaret 
wiped away a tear with the corner of her handkerchief, thinking 
of the happiness of other days; the band played; and presently the 
Danish pennon was furled and Old Glory was run up in its stead. 
Bishop Collymore, it was then announced, would pronounce 
the benediction. 

Bishop and cousins alike were thunderstruck. The call was not 
merely unlooked-for but acutely inconvenient. It would take his 
lordship ten minutes, at least, to reach the rostrum. "Stand up 
and say it here; we'll keep hold of your coattails," Cousin Mar- 
garet was inspired to urge. And so he did, teetering heroically 
to a balance. Thus with relatives of mine playing a vital part in 
modern history, the episcopal phrases descended as from one 
already halfway to the Throne of Grace.* 

St. Croix, though properly no part of the Virgin Islands, was 
purchased by the United States at the same time as St. Thomas. 
It had been on the auction block before. In 1733 Denmark bought 
it from France, Louis XV being in need of cash to wangle the 
throne of Poland for his father-in-law Stanislas Leszczynski. The 
ceremonies of that earlier sale were curious. A candle was ex- 
tinguished and relighted, plants were uprooted and replanted, 
stones were flung, brook water was tasted. These rustic doings, 
however, were seconded by no coronation pomps in Cracow. 
Money spent, Louis and Stanislas were left sucking their thumbs. 

France had acquired the island from the Knights of Malta; its 
previous history had been a long dogfight between rival claimants. 
Nor did the Danish purchase fix the character of the place. Straw- 

* Another Holmes cousin, while managing the United States Steel Corporation's 

. mines at Daiquiri in Cuba, entertained a party of bigwigs from the New York office 

by setting cakes of ice in several tubs, and filling in with sugar, rum, and lime juice. 

The bigwigs had a delightful stay at Daiquiri, since which date the mixture in the 

cocktail form has been called by the litde town's name in many parts of the world. 


berry-red forts on the best Hans Andersen model were built, to 
be sure, but it was the British sugar planters who settled what 
language and manners were to prevail for which reason it 
seemed no alien colony, really, to Alexander Hamilton, when 
he sailed over from British Nevis as a boy. 

"A boy!" Poor Hamilton, his boyhood now came to a sudden 
close. At thirteen, when he should have been flying kites, he was 
managing a supply-house branch in Frederiksted; at fourteen, 
while employees of normal age failed to hide their indescribable 
dismay, he was put in charge of the main office in Christiansted. 
An infant prodigy in business is a prodigy indeed; but special 
oddness is given this footnote to business history by the fact that 
it deals also with an island that twice has had its nationality altered 
by commercial means. 

Near Hamilton's first stand in Frederiksted is the Strand Club, 
where over a lime squash Judge Coulter was so kind as to draw 
on his rich fund of anecdote for my amusement. Sometimes an- 
other listener joined us on the gallery, a gentle Kentuckian named 
Wallenwood who looked as if he had strayed out of heaven by 
mistake. The youthfulness of the two of us, and the view of 
lighters unloading some freighter from the great outside world 
reminded the Judge of his own young days, of school in Scotland, 
and treating the band in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens to a 
princely round of drinks. Playing the role of planter's son from 
the romantic Caribbees had been, we enviously perceived, a picnic. 
This much loved island, too, had been a happy scene for youth. 
We heard of shrimp hunts in streams among the endless sugar 
cane, of steeplechase rides over the south coast flats, and of balls at 
Government House, where marble busts in the style of Thorwald- 
sen stood on the staircase parapets. 

Then there were harum-scarum sloop trips to tell of, to Santo 
Domingo in its wild old times. The jail at San Pedro de Macorfs 
had struck him as extraordinary a sort of wigwam built around 
a mahogany tree in whose shelter the prisoners, freed by day to 


beg their food, slept chained to staples sunk in the bark. It was a 
description that paired well with the Holmes' account of the 
hospitals of old Cuba, in whose wards, when Cousin Margaret 
was brought down to install modern arts of nursing, she found 
die patients' chickens tethered to the legs of the beds. 

An anecdote of an auction sale at which he had wielded the old 
official hammer of solid silver, led on to the grander tale of the 
American purchase of the islands: the Judge had been one of the 
Crucians called to Denmark to safeguard local interests when the 
terms of transfer were being drawn. For a long time the United 
States Navy had had its eye on St. Thomas's and St. John's famous 
harbors; the Imperial German Navy, the same. There had been 
negotiations. But now that the Panama Canal was open to traffic 
and submarine warfare was making everybody mad, Uncle Sam 
signified his readiness to snap the rubber band off his wallet. 

After the price had been agreed upon twenty five millions 
for Denmark's West Indies entire Egan, the American minister, 
confided to the Judge that there had been forty to spend if neces- 
sary. It was news to fret a Dane. However, since willy-nilly he 
was to be an American himself now, rejoicing was perhaps in 
order. His new fatherland's public debt would be so much the 
less. "It was a handsome price, at any rate," the Judge finished, 
"and a great game to watch ... the United States of America 
bidding against the German Empire! " 

"Oh yes," said Wallenwood in his gentle voice. But then he 
fell to discussing, instead, the Independence Day races to be run 
at Mannings' Bay* 

The Judge was the Turf Club's timekeeper; he turned readily 
enough from memories of international jockeying to the local 
event. But Wallenwood's air of dreamy prescience nettled him 
naming the winners in advance, as if being born a Kentuckian 
were all it took to make a connoisseur of horseflesh. "And the 
Puerto Rican mare?" he inquired with mild asperity. 

Hereupon Wallenwood looked more angel-like than ever. He 


had mined for gold in Puerto Rico, and while at it had learned 
all he needed to know about that island's horses. Then with the 
lightness of interest characteristic of die fellow except when he 
talked of prospecting, his passion, he changed the subject again 
and wondered why it was that bullfighting had died out in the 
Spanish islands. 

This the Judge could explain. "Protestant right thinking, en- 
forced by the Marines," he sighed; for the various American 
military occupations had done the trick. Horse racing had sup- 
planted bullfighting. And in Havana the pelota brought from the 
Basque provinces had been aggrandized into jai alai no longer a 
Spanish game but a Cuban spectacle. Sipping our lime squashes 
peacefully, we recalled the bettors rising from their seats in waves 
of joy or terrified anxiety, while the players, no less demonstra- 
tive, flung themselves flat at a failure to return the ball or capered 
into the air after a clever throw. 

But the prime example of the gambling fever left by eighteenth 
century Europe as its legacy to the isles, we agreed, was cock- 
fighting. Especially in Haiti: recollection of the rickety arena at 
Cap Haltien, the thatched Kenskoff shelter, rose to mind; either 
one was the core of the sporting life of its community. Hats flung 
on the ground in outrage, eyeballs protruding, such were the 
signs of impending battle whereupon the cocks, plucked half- 
naked already, lost still more feathers to settle whose money was 
whose in the gabbling throng. 

Cricket the Judge grieved to state had vanished from St. Croix. 
No longer was the cry of "Well fielded, sir!" to be heard while 
the ladies vehemently waved their handkerchiefs. Nor did he 
find baseball a very engrossing substitute. It was a comfort that 
the still-British islands still were true to the prince of games. And 
in St. Kitts sure enough, not long after, I was to find the Leeward 
Islands championship matches in full swing, with the streets full 
of dapper colored-boy cricketers in blazers after tea, and the rest 
of the world unable to eat, almost, for excitement. 


But if St. Croix had not taken baseball to its heart as yet, Santo 
Domingo had. "Strike one!" was the blast that had startled me 
most, blaring from the republic's radios; it was blared in English, 
too, though what came after was Spanish with a vengeance. In 
Santiago de los Caballeros I had tried to see a game, but my early 
arrival was an hour too late. With a thousand or two of others 
thus, on roof, fences, or in roble trees, I saw what I could from 
the terrain outside. Along the foul lines horsemen-spectators were 
ranged like troops of cavalry. It looked very fine. And there 
were horsemen outside with us, kneeling on their saddles for 
extra height or leaping up wildly at tight spots in the play, as if 
skittish flesh and blood weren't what they were mounted on. 

"But Africa," Wallenwood thought to ask, "what fun has it 
sent over with all these niggers? Just mischief with the women- 
folks, I reckon." 

This made me huffy. That very day, at the fort, I had found 
the off-duty policemen playing cat's cradle as if they were their 
West African cousins still playing string games. Nor had I ever 
seen such top throwing as Tortola's, done by blacks whose ances- 
tors had come from the backwoods where the gyroscope was a 
native toy. As for wari and here my voice grew really loud 
wari, the Dark Continent's own game, played on a board hollowed 
out like a cash till, I had seen the Barbados unemployed busy at 
it by the hour; in St. Lucia it was a pastime commoner than crib- 
bage is in Minnesota. And what of dancing? and music? 


The Judge, I suspect, found my discoveries less impressive than 
comical; as for Wallenwood, he was already thinking of some- 


thing else. But when I went on to say that on an island of my own, 
if ever I was to boss one, the non-scorekeeping games were to be 
the ones encouraged, a more alert look dawned in his eye, and he 
proposed for the two of us on the morrow that mildest of all 
sports, going for a walk. Sure enough, with sandwiches in our 
pockets, kindly made by Mrs. Coulter, we footed it all the way 
to Ham Bluff lighthouse, bathing wherever the coves looked 
tempting and pilfering fruit when opportunity offered, as it 
often did. 

At one place the marauders were shamed by being invited in 
to taste "round" mangoes, a choicer kind. 

"Welcome to Little La Grange," someone had written in prac- 
tice flourishes on a blackboard in the room at the front corner of 
the house: it was a reproach so kindly that it freed us of embar- 
rassment. But the old room was a schoolroom no longer; the 
children all were grown: saddles and bridles were stored where 
they had spelled out their Hans Andersen stories. Behind it was 
the laundry, with shallow tubs and linen bleaching by the door. 
The spacious dining room ran through the house from front to 
back; it was suffused with a cool green light like an aquarium's, 
with the carved table and chairs at its center taking the place of 
the fishes' castle. 

As for the garden beside that clean Danish house, it was a 
beauty. There were borders of violets, stairs to a hillside coconut 
grove, and an old sugar cauldron brimful of waterlilies, with 
guppies in the water to thwart mosquitoes' breeding. 

The master of Little La Grange, who had called us in, bade us 
make ourselves at home; the mistress, in a pink frock, and with 
hair piled high under the blond braids that kept its loops in place, 
strolled the paths to point out horticultural darlings. And under 
a Caracas plum tree daughter Anna arranged a table with knives, 
bowl of fruit, and green-sprigged plates: her way of doing it, in 
which household competence was mingled with urbane grace, 


caused the two guests to exclaim in admiration after we had taken 
our leave. "The North transplanted to the tropics certainly can 
be fine!" cried Wallenwood, enthusiastic for once. 

The lighthouse keeper's household at Ham Bluff was another 
study in transplanting. The keeper himself was a friend of mine; 
that is, we had sailed over from St. Thomas on the same ship a 
one-armed Puerto Rican very vigorous and jolly, who had told 
me to stop in for rice-and-beans if ever I came out his way. 

By ill luck he was not about to remember this when Wallen- 
wood and I, sandwiches gone, tramped around to the wind-lashed 
precipitous north coast. His wife and children were at home, 
however, but could speak no English. It seemed odd, on an 
English-speaking American island, to find a civil servant's family 
in such a pickle. 

Actually there was small cause for surprise. As the Danish pur- 
chase of St. Croix led to its domination by British planters, the 
American purchase is leading to its domination by Puerto Ricans. 
With a crowded island so near an uncrowded one and both under 
the same kind flag, there is no hindrance to emigration: over the 
sloops hustle, with hookworm and malaria aboard for gifts to the 
Promised Land, as well as the virtues of fortitude in die face of 
difficulty and gratitude in the face of opportunity that a life "four 
in one shoe" breeds in its children. 

Thanks to the Puerto Rican chapter in his career, Wallenwood 
was better able than I to be chatty with the lighthouse keeper's 
lady. While the children fetched water for us from the sweating 
jug, he entertained her with an account of his reopening of the 
old gold mines at San German. It had been a fizzle as usual. He 
was always picking away at Mother Earth, hoping she would 
make him rich; it was both his vice and his profession. 

At present he was broke. That was the hell of it, as he remarked 
in his customarily mild tone. While we swam and sucked guineps 
on the long walk home, he discussed his problem. A very small 


loan would solve it, he declared, to be paid back very promptly. 
The molybdenum of Virgin Gorda, his latest try, had proved dis- 
appointing; now he was headed toward something sure: the gold 
fields of French Guiana. When mining grew wearisome there, he 
could prospect for diamonds. With which proposal he darted a 
quick and guileless look at me out of the corner of his eye. 

"Let's ask for another drink, here," I countered, perceiving 
why this day's outing had been proposed; we were just passing 
a tumble-down plantation house. 

Into the old slave quarters by the gates the Puerto Rican immi- 
grants had swarmed; their rent money, as we could but guess, was 
die estate's sole revenue. Everything was out of repair. The ter- 
races were a wilderness of weeds and broken bottles, the slats in 
the window shutters hung askew. 

Our knock was answered by a young mulatto girl. Soiled 
pajamas drooped about her slim body, as if she had not quite 
decided to get up yet, at four in the afternoon. "This is Butler's 
Bay?" I asked, to be sociable, after swigging a glass of lukewarm 
water. But it wasn't. Butler's Bay was another ruined property, 
behind us now. "That's where you stole the fruit," our benefac- 
tress added, a smile of sly malice crinkling her eyelids. 

Down the terrace steps we went. The mammee in my hand had 
indeed come from that very place. And so, with studied dignity, 
on past the courtyard's yapping curs, and through the gates where 
the Puerto Ricans, encamped, were waiting for the old manage- 
ment to rot to its extinction. "Looks like an early inheritance," 
said Wallenwood with a shiver. 

He was pink and he was pretty but a deathworm haunted his 
conversation. St. Croix, for all its wide sugar lands, rolling pas- 
tures, magnificent old mahoganies, and sunshine, was worse than 
a dungeon to the fellow. In a word, it was void of minerals. But 
how could he get away? 

I found myself fishing out a ten dollar bill by and by. It was no 



small sum for a tombstone man to part with, but to Wallenwood 
it obviously meant more than it did to me. In fact it made him 
radiant. Of course he could not make Guiana with this, but at 
least he could move one island nearer to the goal And on his next 
stop on the road to El Dorado, his luck, since it could grow no 
worse, very likely might grow better. 

O i X 

Next day was the Fourth of July. It also was a Sunday. 

Religious scruples prevented the day's being celebrated much. 
There were few flags, no firecrackers, no parade. And since 
Americanism in St. Croix is both recent and involuntary, a little 
carelessness in the regard with which the islanders accept the 
blessing can be expected, I suppose. The Frederiksted Puerto 
Ricans, Latin Catholics to whom Sunday would have been a 
natural day for noise, also were models of restraint. Their own 
island had been taken by the United States as indemnity at the 
close of the Spanish-American War, which gave Independence 
Day there an ironical flavor from the start. 

The very sermon in church, where Wallenwood and I sat with 
the Coulters, threatened to burn with a patriotism not quite whole- 


hearted. St. Croix's Anglican priesthood is as British still as it was 
in the Danish times; our sermon was preached by an Englishman. 
But Mr. Levo accepted the challenge with a rush. The toe of his 
boot was planted in the seats of the pants of the chief current dic- 
tators, one by one, in which order down they fell headlong from 
their pedestals. It was hard to remember not to applaud. "From 
every mountainside let freedom ring! " we then sang, fervor jacked 
up by this British force. 

All the same, it was only Sunday. Nor was the legal holiday that 
followed much more of a proper Fourth. Overwhelmingly it was 
Race Day. 

On our trip out to Mannings' Bay Racecourse, Wallenwood 
and I had our livers well jolted. We rode on a plank in the back 
of a truck, crushed in with an uproarious load of Negroes rather 
a lark for me, but Wallenwood's Kentucky blood pined for 
society less humiliating. At the gate, too, he gave me a speaking 
look; tickets to the Turf Club's enclosure cost a dollar and a half. 
But I had not come out to devote my day to profitless decorum; 
general admission was what I wanted, and when he saw there was 
no expectation of anything grander, with a good grace he joined 
me and the herd. 

One race already had been run. Betting was in full swing. There 
were no cramping pari-mutuel frills: people with cash to wager 
went about waving it in the air and bellowing. It made a big 
good-humored bedlam in which; since I was sober and amiable 
and a white landmark easily found, I soon was being called on to 
hold stakes. My pockets bulged with other people's money. 

Wallenwood was among the first of these clients. He won on 
White Shadow, and then on another horse whose name I have 
forgotten. Shyly smiling, he remarked that he was putting my 
ten dollar gift to work. Kentucky astuteness was rebuffed in the 
next race, however; he lost on Ay Ay,* and across his face a frown 

* This, by the way, was the island's Carib name. 


fleetingly hovered. But his next guess, and he took triumph calmly, 
was good again. 

Meanwhile, lunch time had come around. Though the music 
pumped out by an orchestra from St. Thomas did not flag for an 
instant, the tumult of betting died away. White napkins were 
unknotted from around baskets, platters were passed; nests of 
enamelware pans were unlocked, and each pan was seen to contain 
something good. Cheeks began to shine with chicken grease. 

We had not thought to bring lunch with us, but there was 
plenty to buy Danish beer and Danish ham, and roast pig, brown 
and toothsome. Two-wheeled Crucian carts, shafts in air, were 
heaped with mangoes, peanut brittle, and knob-ended crusty rolls; 
in each tipped-up cart a salesgirl lolled, or from it leaned out long- 
necked to hoot her prices. Under larger wagons, for the shade, 
husbands cranked ice-cream freezers, while their wives, hats 
clapped atop their turbans, strode about selling cones.* No one 
needed to go hungry and no one did. It was Race Day, everybody 
had come with money. Even the smaller tots, dimes in fists, by 
midmorning had begun to shrill their odds among the bettors. 

The pork and the beer and the glorious sunshine quite warmed 
the caution out of me. Why not risk a dollar on Play Boy, a horse 
owned in St. Thomas by a man I knew? Joe Petersen the owner 
was a Viking from the old regime; his stately size, walrus mous- 
tache, and deafness, made his saloon the most respectable in 
Charlotte Amalie. Reliability was what he breathed; no doubt any 
horse of his must do the same. The trouble with this race was, 
however, that Joe's horse never got into motion. The groom 
somehow neglected to let go; thus after one lunge and finding 
himself held, Play Boy backed up. 

Pandemonium! Had he officially run or not? In the Turf Club's 

* To a gallant Northerner, these husbands would seem to be somewhat henpecked. 
But among the island Negroes generally, as in Africa, "men are the producers and 
women the distributors of goods." I quote from Melville J. Herskovfts's creatlv to 
be valued Life in a Haitian Valley. 


enclosure across the track, where access to the judges' stand was 
easy, it was soon known that he had not; but among the rest of us 
the question had to be decided by brute strength and lung power. 
The din was frightful. As for myself, I wished I had bet with 
someone easier to lick. I shall only say this of my adversary, that 
she was a. liar, a robber, and a ruffian. I let the dollar go. 

Wallenwood was not so self-controlled. He had omitted to 
wear a hat, and so was very sunburnt, and now he was fighting 
mad besides. As a Kentucloan, he knew Play Boy positively had 
not run. But the Negro with whom he had bet knew otherwise; 
he was from San Juan, turf procedure had been his meat since 
infancy. Besides, he had the louder mouth, louder by far; and his 
pock-marked visage, like the tin horseshoe pinned on his tie, 
emitted an evil gleam. 

To my surprise, Wallenwood won the argument. He had ap- 
peared to be at a disadvantage, even though in the right; but no, 
the San Juan black gave in suddenly; and for a magnanimous ges- 
ture Wallenwood accepted his odds on Lady Barbara: their bet 
was increased and transferred to the ensuing race. 

"She's the Puerto Rican," Wallenwood announced, after con- 
sulting his card. "I thought so. That nigger sure is patriotic, risking 
so much on a horse from home. Horses over there are small, I 
reckon you could run a carpet sweeper over most of 'em." Then 
with a nudge he added, "Guess Fll be able to get passage through 
to Guiana, how!" And the sunburn that had given his anger dark- 
ness brightened his smile to extra rosy. 

Oakland, the defender, was a champion with an impressive 
record. He was the Virgin Islands' darling. And he was my horse 
too: via Wallenwood's pocket I had a ten dollar stake in his suc- 
cess. When he was led out my heart beat in rhythm with the 
crowd's own proud anxiety. But Lady Barbara likewise was a 
handsome creature. "She's built larger than is usual over there," 
said Wallenwood, looking at her dubiously. 


Since here was the day's chief event, mango carts were deserted. 
The orchestra even ceased to play* To right and left along the 
fence the throng piled in a Dutch dike of alert humanity, from 
which, bug-eyed and openmouthed, the faces protruding turned 
like sunflowers to follow the career of the two swift specimens of 

The contest between these specimens was almost too much for 
Wallenwood. In the press of the crowd I could feel his legs 
weaken; and on his arms, hanging across the fence, gooseflesh 
puckered the sunburn. 

History seemed to swoop upon us. How could I watch so much 
at once? first a look down the track, then one at the crowd 
whose entreaties and supplicating gestures respectively rent and 
thrashed the air, then a third at the on-surging bosoms of our fate's 

Suddenly beyond the pound of hoofs the thud of one breaker 
on a far reef was audible. But as. suddenly again the crowd's 
paralysis broke into new tumult. The dike unpiled itself and 
streamed away in whirling knots of arguers and mourners, to the 
beer stands or private rum bottles to irrigate throats that disaster 
had parched. 

Disaster calmed Wallenwood. "About a length and a half, 
wasn't it?" he estimated in his usual voice; then drew himself up 
to wither with a glare the San Juan Negro who had come for his 
money. And the glare had its eff ect. The man was quite humble, 
as he could well afford to be, judging by the small part played in 
his winnings by my late ten dollars. 

"This teaches me a lesson," said Wallenwood, riding home at 
my expense. "After I have come back from Guiana, I'll buy an 
annuity. These quick ways of making cash grow I reckon get a 
man in trouble sooner than they put him on Easy Street." 

"You lose on Oakland, too?" asked the woman squeezed in 


beside him. "Plenty people did. But these roll-eye Portoricans, 
we going to hear them laugh. They coming home rich." 

At this moment the truck stopped at Hogensborg Estate to let 
off passengers. A dog had been killed in traffic at that point on 
the road, its remains were immediately to windward. The ladies' 
bags all opened and out of each came a handkerchief to be pressed 
to its owner's outraged nose. Our driver kindly pulled forward 
three yards. "That's better," sighed Wallenwood, and then re- 
marked simply, "I have thirty-seven cents left now." 

He spoke only once more on the remainder of the ride. Some 
Puerto Ricans came by; their holiday clothes were ornate in the 
Latin taste, and on the doors of their humming Ford, black-and- 
white sport shoes were cocked in showy ease. In Frederiksted 
there was to be a dance, toward which goal the party sped past us 
like a happy bee aiming for a rose. 

""Blessed are the meek,' " quoted Wallenwood cryptically; 
"Some day they'll move into Little La Grange, too," he -added, 
"like that other place where they were camping by the gates." 

"Or Government House," said Judge Coulter, when I men- 
tioned this prophecy to him. "About 1950, say. And why not?" 


Chapter XVIII. 


was f rost r bitten by the inability of her relatives to guess what the 
future was to bring this prison-born orphan. No, she was a bur- 
den, that's what she was; which start in life should have made 
her final ascendency at Versailles rich in inner satisfaction. Her 
girlhood, however, had had one chapter not without warmth. 
Some years of it were spent in Martinique. Island dowagers, when 
the news leaked out at last that she really had married the king, 
nodded their heads and sighed, recollecting the mutual innocence 
in which they had played dolls with her under the coconut trees. 

Within a century Martinique was reveling in even thicker slabs 
of the same chewy kind of gossip. A Trois Islets girl born, some 
hinted, in a sugar mill married a squatty but clever Corsican 
after her Martinique-born husband had been guillotined during 
the Reign of Terror. The Corsican was in the army. Of course 
the girl was Josephine and her second husband Napoleon, and 
we know all about what happened. But to Martinique the story 
was current news; every ship from Europe brought further details. 
What a topic! Empress! Heaven help us! And from little Trois 
Islets, of all places! 

Nor was this the end of it. Hortense Beauharnais, child of 


Josephine's first marriage, became Queen of Holland.* Everybody 
remembered her or tried to: such a pretty little girl, she favored 
her dear mother, or some said it was the father. And then there 
was Josephine's cousin Aim6e, at the mention of which name 
chairs were hitched closer, because her story, no more difficult to 
believe, was more tantalizing because impossible to verify. 

Aimee had been born on the Atlantic side of the island; if Mar- 
tinique was to pepper Europe with royalties, let all quarters be 
represented. She was prepared for ladyhood in a convent in 
France, but on her return voyage the ship and she with it were 
taken by Barbary pirates. It is easy to believe that Josephine's 
cousin was beautiful and that her Creole manners were lovely; 
something about her awed her captors, at any rate, for they sent 
her to the Sultan of Turkey as a gift. Through gates the most por- 
tentous imaginable she vanished; and beyond them, when Jose- 
phine's daughter was old enough to wed Louis Bonaparte, she had 
reared a son old enough to inherit the sultanate. 

But who could swear to the truth of all this? The pirates kept 
no receipts for goods delivered; the harem was embalmed in 
mystery. To this day Aime's story belongs on the list of island 
puzzles, with Atlantis's theoretical one-time existence, and syphi- 
lis's New World origin, and the Baconian hypothesis, most brain 
addling of any.t 

While Aimee's influence could have been felt, for example, 
Turkey dispatched a permanent embassy to the French Directory; 
the old regime in France, for all its prestige, had been honored 

* Napoleon I was both her stepfather and her brother-in-law; Napoleon III was 
her son. 

t While I was in Nassau an elderly Boston lady chartered a plane, and loading it 
with pickaxes, dynamite, and flashlight powders, flew over to Andros to unearth 
Bacon's original manuscript of The Tempest, concealed there by him in a cave. But, 
as it proved, she had derived the latitude and longitude incorrectly from the Tempest 
cryptogram, as had happened once before, in Bermuda. What made this second fiasco 
especially tiresome was, that she had interviewed the Colonial Secretary, to implore 
him to have a man-of-war in readiness to transport her find to England. 


with nothing grander than special envoys. Things cl la turque 
soon were the rage in Paris; at a ball given in compliment to the 
new ambassador, the ladies appeared in turbans. Better, Turkey 
was an early power to recognize Napoleon's imperial status; cousin 
Aim6e, from the anonymity of the harem, could at least urge that 
gesture for her greeting. 

Later news from France was received with distaste in Constan- 
tinople as it was in most places. Napoleon's love for Josephine 
burnt with authentic fire; it was one of the deep sources of motion 
in his life. But another source was egoism: Josephine now was 
forty-eight eight years older than himself and had given him 
no heir; how was the world to guess the torture of uprooting his 
heart must undergo to insure founding a dynasty for the empire's 
benefit? No, the world jeeringly watched its upstart islander put 
away a wife born on a merely more backwoodsy island, to marry 
a royalty of the usual continental kind. 

The Sublime Porte remained as sublimely inscrutable as ever. 
Mahmud, however, the young sultan, came to terms secretly 
with his country's inveterate foe Russia, in time to release the 
Russian forces stationed at the frontier for service against Napo- 
leon on his march to Moscow. Two months later the verified 
news reached the emperor at Vitebsk. He was enraged. Why 
had this pig of a sultan done exactly what history would lead 
nobody to expect? 

No one could say. Everybody backed out of harm's reach. But 
Martinique gossip, remote and romantic, had its opinion. 

It is tempting to wonder if that cold Russian campaign might 
not have had another root of distress in the hot West Indies. The 
tactics of the Russian high command were gruellingly inglorious. 
First Tolly, then Kutusof disgusted his officers by making no 
showy use of them or his huge armies. In fact there never was an 
expulsion of the enemy less heroic or more successful than the 
one directed by Kutusof, who snored through staff meetings and 


steered clear of marching up to be outwitted in open combat by 
the prime military genius of the age. 

Kutusof 's foxy inertia was probably original. I would not nip 
one laurel from his brow. But he certainly had heard something 
about Napoleon's sole previous imperial disaster, the expedition 
sent to Haiti. It was while the revolt against France, caused by 
the recommitment of the colonies to slavery, seethed again, that 
Christophe (not yet King of North Haiti) remarked to one of 
the expedition's generals: "If, instead of fighting, our system of 
resistance had consisted in flight and in well alarming the blacks, 
you would never have been able to overtake us: so said old Tous- 
saint; no one believed him. We possessed arms; the pride of using 
them was our ruin. These new insurgents follow the system of 
Toussaint; if they persist in it, we shall have difficulty to reduce 

The story is, of course, that they persisted, and won. In love 
with liberty, a populace of one-time slaves, of whom a majority 
had also been one-time freemen in Africa,* fought the last honest 
fight of the French Revolution. And they fought it against that 
Revolution's own world-conquering armies. When the French 
soldiers heard the Haitians sing the Marseillaise, it must have 
reminded them bewilderingly of what they once had been fight- 
ing for themselves. 

Napoleon's contemporary detractors believed that it was his 
hope that some of these troops, too steeped in the old republican 
enthusiasm to fall in with his future plans, might be purged by a 
tropical campaign. If so, it was a hope only too well fulfilled. His 
expedition was lost entire. The soldiers who escaped the Haitians 
and the yellow fever managed to do so only by surrendering to 
the British, who put them in Jamaican prison camps. Ten thou- 
sand sailors, too, were lost to die navy; at Trafalgar they would 

*Dessalines, the ferocious general who won the final victory, was born in the 


have been a godsend. And the colony was lost besides. But who 
could win battles when climate was the fortress and the enemy 
was always rear and foremost and out of reach? 

Who indeed? Not the great Napoleon, as Kutusof proved again 
in Russia nine years later. 

Christophe, left behind in Haiti, made as sure as he could, 
when it came his turn to rule, that no new visit of the French 
should deliver him to imprisonment and death as it had Toussaint; 
he built a citadel on a mountaintop behind Cap Haitien, the very 
symbol of distrust. More feminine, meanwhile, Martinique kept 
for its souvenir of the Napoleonic era the & la turque headdresses 
of Josephine's heyday and the gowns and kerchiefs fashionable 
when she was a girl. 

Max Beerbohm has pointed out that the liveries of one era's 
servants repeat the style of clothing worn by high society in the 
era previous. Such was true certainly in the French islands. Brun- 
yas's engravings, made in the 1770'$, show the fine colonial ladies 
wearing the very costume that was to be the badge of the next 
century's house slaves: the full-skirted dress with its caught-up 
train and luscious glimpse of petticoat, the foulard drawn around 
the shoulders to be tucked in at the waist, the glittering earrings, 
the turban. 

Turbans, it is curious to note, were not to come into fashion in 
Europe until the Turkish embassy inspired Paris to adopt them for 
formal wear; this was about at the time of Josephine's marriage 
to General Bonaparte. The era of her girlhood, however, was 


marked in Europe by tremendous coiffures: hair was drawn up 
on frames perhaps half a yard high, powdered, and decked with 
ornaments. Such works of art were too elaborate to be rebuilt 
daily; the wearers slept with them in situ. 

The colonial ladies were ready to sacrifice comfort to fashion 
as a rule, but in the tropics some things were out of reason. Still, 
one must look top-heavy or be a frump which problem seems 
to have been solved by inventing the Creole turban, built very 
high indeed but removable. On the fronts of these creations they 
pinned the same jaunty hats that the ladies at Versailles were pin- 
ning on the fronts of their mounds of hair. 

Except for these turbans, the mid-eighteenth century style in 
Creole dress was beautiful. The Martinique colored women loved 
it and never gave it up. Even in now-British St. Lucia and 
Dominica, as well as in French Guadeloupe and its dependencies, 
the gorgeous finery still is shaken out for fine Sunday wear. And 
since by application of Beerbohm's law the turban in time de- 
scended upon the heads that carried burdens, headdress propor- 
tions came back to normal. It had long been common for the 
slaves of both sexes to knot handkerchiefs around their hair, the 
Fullahs and Senegalese among them having borrowed the habit 
from the Arabs: the Negro women of most of the West Indies do 
so still. But the French colonies are true to the fashions of the 
eighteenth century in turbans as in dress, and Martinique, the old 
hotbed of queens, is truest to them of any. 

At the Riviere Madame fish market in Fort-de-France I loafed 
to watch the mornings' style parades. The girls at the tables that 
flanked the door wore frocks of modern cut, I was upset to see; 
since the sun was hot they also wore broadbrimmed hats while 
at their job of braiding little onions and peppers, parsley sprigs, 
and other herbs into* nosegays to put flavor in the town's soup 
kettles. But Madras handkerchiefs were tied around their waists 


ready to be wound into turbans when work was done; and up 
the walk between them, with the fishermen who trotted by with 
live turtles balanced on their heads or baskets of crawfish, strode 
women to whom it was still natural to dress picturesquely. It was 
natural also for them to wear clothes well. There is little unmixed 
blood in the island; a fortunate wedding of racial genes has fixed 
the Martinique type: tall, slender, long-necked, large-eyed, with 
neat features, perfect skin, and regal posture. 

But weekday clothing was eclipsed by Sunday's. Nowhere in 
the New World is more eye-satisfying raiment displayed than at 
High Mass in Fort-de-France, and one of my Sundays there hap- 
pily coincided with the feast of St. Louis, king and patron. It was 
a religious event especially gala. 

The choir girls wore purple turbans perched on their infant 
brows and looked very cute. But in the rich-painted cathedral 
with its torrents of organ music among the arches, and the tallest 
silver-gilt bouquets in a forest above the altar, what I was looking 
for was their young aunts and elder sisters. In a garden of gay 
dressmaking and millinery I took my pew. 

Madame X at my right wore a grande-robe of white sprigged 
with green ivy leaves; the foulard drawn over her shoulders was 
flowered white on pink; her turban, knotted high, with a further 
knot of crinkly black hair drawn up and pinned against the back 
of it, was of pink and green. It was a color scheme in accordance 
with the laws of the fashion set down long ago by Lafcadio 
Hearn. And so was that used by Mademoiselle Z at my left: her 
grande-robe was of a maid-in-the-mist blue, her foulard, rose, and 
her turban was of rose barred with mulberry; a necklace of gold 
beads and earrings like bunches of small gold grapes added luster 
to a costume already handsome. Mademoiselle A, in front 'of me, 
wore a calendered turban of yolk-yellow plaid, that is, one folded 
from a Madras so stiffened by a painting process that its shape 


was permanently fixed: here was the Creole version of the turban 
made fashionable in Paris, first, by the embassy ball low-coiled, 
ladylike, and formal. As for the Mesdames B, C, D, E, and F, 
listening so devoutly to the French rhetoric from the pulpit, each 
one was a study. 

But, seated or kneeling, these artists in dress could not show 
their attire to best advantage. It was afterward, while the postlude 
thundered and the congregation melted away into the shuttered-up 
Sabbath streets, that I got my most intoxicating eyeful of color 
and drapery, whisking about from group to group and wishing 
that people would disperse more slowly. 

One haughty dame in voluminous gray silk richly damasked, 
with train caught up over her arm to reveal a no less rich petticoat 
of bright cerise, was too fine not to look at twice. I made a dog- 
trot detour and, trying not to pant, met her as if by chance in 
the Place Volny. The curly balcony ironwork cast shadows down 
the walls and across the slatted blinds; the leafy square was filled 
with Sunday calm. And toward me, full of grandeur, came 
my lady. 

She looked as if she had seen me before, as indeed she had, two 
streets back; her calendered turban inclined a fraction of an 
inch when I bowed. As for her, she was a familiar figure to me, 
too out of the old engravings. 

Lafcadio Hearn, in Martinique in the i88o's, mourned the 
passing of the island costume. Fifty years later I found myself 


doing the same. The poets have so drilled it into us that loveliness 
must perish, that Hans Andersen's rime, 

Flowers fade fast, 
But pigskin will last, 

seems poor comfort for anybody but a tanner. By good luck, how- 
ever, seemingly frail things can partake of pigskin's durability: 
the headgear of these women, for example, must be fresh-tied 
every day; what could be more liable to change? But the pigskin 
of habit lasts; little ways of doing things have a wonderful per- 
sistence in a people. 

The Place Volny, for a parallel instance, seemed very Frenchy, 
and it was the little details that made it so: the door handles instead 
of knobs, the quoins, the ribbed roof tiles, even the flowing green - 
script in which the milliner's sign was lettered. 

Or the cathedral and I trudged back to take another look 
what was it that made it seem so harmoniously in character? It 
was no copy of any French church style that I knew; some disciple 
of the builder of the Eiffel Tower had planned it, a high-arching 
fabric of steel sinews, walled with glass. But its very loftiness was 
French, and its site, close-hemmed by business streets. Besides, 
there was something Gallic in the quickness of imagination with 
which a tropical problem had been tackled. 

Certainly there was nothing British about it. Grandeur rather 
than coziness was the quality striven for; in my mind's eye, for 
a contrast, up rose the paneling, box pews, and low sheltering 
galleries of Antigua's long cathedral. Cane-fields might parch in 
un-English Antiguan drought, it would be coconut cream, not 
Devonshire cream, with the "sweet" at dinner, but in that home- 
like room and God be praised for it, the colonials kneeling on 
their hassocks things were as they should be. Moreover, in 
Antigua as in Devonshire, or any other right-thinking (ie. British) 
place, the church was in a churchyard. Such was the law of habit. 


Having made comparison thus far and reflected platitudinously 
that architecture was society's dress as a group as the costumes I 
had been admiring were the dress of it as individuals, I went on 
to think of the islands' Spanish churches. Like an authoritative 
benediction the walls of Santo Domingo cathedral closed in about 
me: here was New World architecture old enough to be Gothic 
of actual Gothic times. As the Emperor Charles V had given 
instructions that it should, the calm pavement led away, bay upon 
bay, to an apse where the altar frowned in richest sUver. And 
into bell arches by the door the young campaneros swarmed, to 
clash out at close range their pulse-dizzying peals: it was the 
Hispanic way of ringing church bells, transferred unchanged 
from the Old World to the Indies. 

The general scheme of the structure was no less Hispanic. 
Spain's way of building had been bred where the sun a large part 
of the year was an enemy: thick walls, with few but lofty open- 
ings, were the rule which rule, at once practicable in the tropics 
has seen little alteration since first introduced. From the North' 
on the other hand, where summer heat can best be relieved by 
opening a building to the breeze, has come an architecture that 
adapts itself to tropical temperatures by growing more and more 

The British, whose habits put pigskin to the blush for durability 
are soil puzzled to know how to make a bird cage cooler than the 
world around it; in Grenada, for example, the windows, greatly 
enlarged, have been boxed in with contraptions of slats (to keep 
the glare out) through which it is impossible to look. But the 
French islands, as half-Spanish Dutch Curasao did very early are 
turning from slats and lattices to the insulated type of building 
In Haiti, even, filigree is passe\ New construction is in the inte?- 
national style, and its large plane surfaces and blocks and curves 
at very well among the hibiscuses and mangoes 

Rambling the Fort-de-France heights that afternoon for a 


Sunday spree, I climbed high enough to look back on the slab 
roofs of the new Colonial Hospital. All very neat! Contempo- 
raneous with complete simplicity, the spread-out low group of 
buildings took my eye. Why not use this style of my own day, 
myself, when building my own island house? with a bougain- 
villea vine on the top slab like a big red wig? And a view like 
this! What a luxury! The great bay drowsed in the sun, with a 
battlement of mountains on its farther side, and Trois Islets where 
Josephine was born. On the near side were city and cathedral 
spire, and Fort Louis tucked on the couch of its promontory like 
a dowager duchess sound asleep. 

Poor old lady of a fortress! as a young lady her virtue had not 
been proof against British assault very often. For forts are in fact 
feminine institutions if you subscribe to the male's being the 
aggressive mechanism and the female's the defensive. Their role 
is to guard the valuables in their care chastity, riches, arts, or 
whatnot which enterprise it is that gives their watchfulness its 
womanly repose. The structure of chief majesty in the West 
Indies is no church nor palace, but that Amazon of a fort, 
Christophe's Citadel. 

Liberty was what the Citadel was built to guard, but its enemies, 
as it happened, had been bled too white to test it with a siege. In 
Puerto Rico however, for an opposite kind of tale, San Juan's 
Morro and its sister forts could tell of assaults repulsed, fit to put 
any woman in a glow: their miles of ramparts, bastions, and dry 
moats once ready, though stormed many times, were never taken. 
In the maidenly art of self-defense they were the nonpareil. But 
elsewhere in the islands as here in Martinique capitulation had 
been more usual. The male masters the female in a natural world; 
there was nothing out of the way in Fort Louis's having been 
won now and then by a gallant foe. A gracious yielding after a 
seemly struggle is romance's crown. 

Nobody understands this better than the British. From Mar- 





unique's great bay beyond the fort here, it was, that the French 
fleet sailed to its destruction by Rodney in the Battle of the 
Saintes. The Ville de Paris, de Grasse's flagship, was "washed over 
with gold to the water's edge" it was a showy era, the Versailles 
coiffures had just passed the zenith of their fantasticality. But 
gilding was no match for the British admiral. By that day's victory 
in 1782, his empire was saved from its threatened dissolution. 
The calamities of George Ill's reign now were at an end. But 
will you believe it, the British, though ranking this first among 
naval battles in the Western Hemisphere, think more fondly of 
their land defeat in St. Kitts two months previous. The point is 
that the defense of Brimstone Hill there, was so game for a 
monument to which useless fortitude the hill's fortifications pose 
grandly to this day, while British tourists "snap" them. 

The loss of Diamond Rock, a fortress island off the south coast 
of Martinique, is another tale loved by the British. Defeat in this 
instance gave the navy's most idyllic episode just that turn of 
tragedy necessary to make it classic. 

That war can have its idylls is troublesome to admit. I should 
prefer to have it stink throughout, and so excuse my inclination 
to write essays while other people bleed. But history does not 
flinch from exposing its unseamy side; for like the "remnant of 


justice" that Socrates saw was what enabled the unjust to work 
together, it is humanity that makes possible the organizing of 
inhumanity, and in doing so gives war its ironic interest. 

Certainly the first wars between West Indians and invading 
Spaniards were a beautiful subject for the fresco painter. Amid 
the strange blooms and masses of strange foliage of Hispaniola, 
at La Vega in 1495, the first battle was fought, one army ranged 
stark naked, the other glittering in burnished armor.* 

Humor came into the wars, too, laughably as humor will. When 
Morgan's filibusters were put to it on Old Providence Island to 
keep the just-dispossessed Spaniards from returning, they loaded 
the cannon with the church organ pipes and "let them have it" 
a bombardment which was, as we would say, a scream. Or even 
the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, enforced in the islands 
by Victor Hugues, had its facetious side. The Martinique belles 
could dress in cotton prints sprigged modishly with blood-red 
little guillotines. 

Slaughter, however, is the immediate purpose of the military 
arts. It cost three hundred thousand lives to guarantee liberty to 
the slaves of Haiti * country smaller than South Carolina. The 
American Revolution was a lawn fete in comparison. Nor were 
South America's wars of independence, though bad enough, any 
such frantic holocaust. Bravely lending Bolivar military aid, Haiti, 
between the two continents on its island, had to pay more bitterly 
than either for its children's heritage. But during the era that 
saw this agony come to somber triumph, the idyll of Diamond 
Rock was at its prettiest. 

Diamond Rock's cannon were real guns that shot real death- 
dealing cannon balls; its final defense was a dismal failure. But it 

* The last European war in which armored knights took part had not yet begun. 
The Age of Chivalry was past, however, as no doubt the Indians noticed. Firearms 
were in use; and though the harquebus took three minutes to load and two to fire, the 
fact that gunfire wounds were "treated" with boiling oil gave the new weapon special 


was an island, snug and small: Commodore Hood fell head over 
heels in love with it and so did his officers and men. The inner 
nook, of grotto-bound lawn and fig-tree thicket, was given the 
name "Portland Place" in a surge of admiration. 

The Navy's year-long occupancy of this rare picnic spot 
even had its staff artist and historiographer. That the swinging of 
ordnance from sailing ships to emplacements six hundred feet 
above the billows was a hard feat to perform did not mean that it 
also was hard to picture. But to do justice to the delightfulness 
of the place was another thing: John Eckstein, flinging down his 
pen, pronounced it inexpressible. But then like a good historiog- 
rapher he took up his pen again, and particularized; and as the 
roast joints and melons pass before our view, and we quaff in 
imagination those abundant toasts in claret punch; and then, after 
scanning the horizon with our mind's eye for enemy sail, see the 
moon illumine the sailors' tents, and hear in our mind's ear the 
gurgling of caves at water-line that made Eckstein's lullaby, we 
know what sentiments swelled his bosom. It was a boy's dream 
of an island, and what man would not find relish in living on such 
a one, if a war gave him the chance? 

But the Rock, loved like a girl itself, lacked womenkind. There 
were jests made on the theme, no doubt, and inward wishes when 
the njoon cast the image of fig leaves on the tent tops at night. 
Martinique lay just over the channel, with its queenly women; 
Josephine, the enemy's Empress, had been born not ten miles 
away. Poor Empress! coarse jests were made at her special cost; 
she soon was to be relegated to Malmaison, while Marie Louise 
of Austria reigned over Europe with the conqueror. 

Napoleon won Diamond Rock, true enough. But he was not to 
go on conquering forever. He lost an army entire in the Haitian 
try, and soon, and personally, was to lead a far vaster force into 
Russia to be swaUowed up. St. Helena had begun to loom in the 


Josephine, meanwhile, knew no true eclipse; she ruled im- 
perially, though only over the greenhouses of her prison. "Hor- 
tense," "the gardener," she had named her daughter; for a solace 
she cultivated the hobby now herself. Gifts from well-wishers far 
and near streamed in, of shrubs, and flowers, and exotic creepers, 
till Malmaison was an island of things tropical in the French 
countryside. After a revolution, the Napoleonic wars, divorce, 
she was to die in a sort of New Martinique, her Creole charm 

The poets' quick-fading loveliness is not illustrated by Jose- 
phine's story. Perhaps she was exceptional. Madame de Maintenon's 
virtues, on the other hand, were strictly leathery. Nor did they 
fail her in her grand old age; her success had been too well earned, 
every kiss of it, to decay. But earned love is not the final bliss. It 
has the smell of duty in it. To be loved for loveliness as Josephine 
was, and good islands are, is the only love that satisfies our craving. 
When told one day that the Sun King's carp were sickening in 
the royal ponds, "They miss their mud! " the great lady blurted. 

It was a remark that jarred everybody's nerves unbelievably 
out of character. But, who knows? despite her girlhood's indig- 
nities she would have liked to live it over again, perhaps. Perhaps 
in Martinique a second time, when she ran barefoot down rain- 
soaked paths to look up into the opening skies, it would not be 
with the snubbed child's determination to win all adult battles. 
Defeat, too, can have its victories. And oh, the release sometimes 
of being vanquished! 


Chapter XIX. 


be confuted by mere brute lung power, 

King William was King James's son, 
we bellowed, 

All the royal race is run; 

Wore a star upon his breast, 

Point to the east and point to the west; 

and so through to the final stanza, stamping like Cossacks. After 
which back to King William again, and again and again, while 
the little gray shack was rocked on its props by our energetic 
circling. Whew! What exertion! 

At the windows bkck faces grinned, shining, as our white ones 
shone, in the light of a lantern hung from the ceiling beam. There 


was a hole in the floor, but a bit of planking had been laid over it 
to spare anyone's breaking a leg. 

Little red 'wagon painted blue. 
Skip to the loo, my darling, 

we sang, kicking up heels. The loose board was as much of a 
hazard as a safeguard in these skipping games. Then came "Honey 
in the Dell" with its bold embracing, "In and Out the Window," 
"Gone Again," and a game of forfeits, after which the refresh- 
ments were served. 

Miss Gracie, my partner, was radiant. The party obviously was 
a success; since she was one of the hostesses this was a load off her 
mind. Beside, she was having a whale of a good time herself, and 
so was I. In lemonade we drank the health of the guest of honor, 
a contagiously jolly blond young man; he was going off by the 
next mail boat to finish his education in the great outside world, 
that is, in Nassau. Even when Miss Gracie dropped her cake, her 
happiness was unmarred. She just cut another slice, while 
"Where's Bob?" everybody cried, and in bounded a big woolly 
loving dog; he ate up the fallen piece in a twinkling as well as 
several other kind contributions. 

When pitchers were dry and cake plates empty, the shack was 
abandoned for a dance through the streets. Door shutters had 
been folded in on the sleeping Harbor Islanders; the hurricane- 
glass lights in King Street hallways had been extinguished. But 
the sky was well spangled with stars, by whose light we rollicked, 
exchanging partners and caroling: 

You'll be the reaper 
And fll be the binder, 
For I have lost my true love, 
And right here to find her, 


while the goats jumped their fences in alarm, and broke through 
the procession. 

Then presently, in the shack once more, the guest of honor 
"raised a hymn." "God Be with You till We Meet Again" we 
sang, in parts, after which number I saw Miss Gracie home. 

Perhaps you inhabit a region where fun of this kind makes a 
normal farewell to a popular young man. If so, my congratula- 
tions. It was a novelty to me, though King William, so my mother 
says, was a game not unknown in the Kansas of her girlhood. 
"Skip to my loo!" from her, in fact, in my own more recent 
infancy, was equivalent to the modern phrase, "Get going!" The 
Bahamians trace their lineage very often to loyalist families that 
fled Carolina after the Revolution: some of these strenuous danc- 
ing games had come to the islands by way of the mainland col- 
onies.* But their origins were in Britain, and to find them still 
flourishing was a pleasure. 

It also was a surprise. The white West Indians as a rule are 
quite up to the minute. What is being danced and sung on the 
continents is being danced and sung by them. Nor do the colored 
people shun ballroom dancing or Tin Pan Alley's sweet music. 
Luckily, however, this is not the whole tale, though Harbor 
Island's high jinks are unusual so far as my knowledge of white 
merrymaking goes. The Negroes, for the most part, are respon- 
sible for the dancing and music that are remarkable. 

In Jamaica, for example, at a Tram Lines picnic, the legs that had 
seemed so nimble under me in King William were rooted in 
inactivity. These bouncing-breasted black girls and elastic black 
boys were up to tricks taught them by no Anglo-Saxon. Cold 
Spring gristle could not hope to qualify. 

The floor proper was too crowded to permit more than an all-of- 
a-piece movement in the mass, but on the lawn outside revels less 
gelatinous were afoot. When partners were unavailable or absent 

* The Bahamian addiction to hominy grits would seem to be a Carolina legacy. 


on other business, people whirled and trotted by themselves; girls 
danced with girls, men with men, helter-skelter across the dusty 
grass by the sea; groups blended and dissolved like a dream of 

The chief sight at Rockf ort Gardens that afternoon, though by 
no means the only one of its kind, was a rumba danced endlessly 
by a young buck in a curl-brimmed hat and his girl, radiant in 
green rayon. It was a world of their own that these two inhabited 
under the blue-starred lignum vitaes. Their ballet of the chase of 
love was older than those iron-hard trees; it had the animal fresh- 
ness of the first guilt in Eden in it, as they advanced, retreated, 
touched, parted, revolved rapturously about each other, progress- 
ing from figure to figure in continuous rhythm, she all curves, 
he playful but intent. I see the fellow run toward her now, whirl- 
ing one arm as if to wind tighter and tighter the springs of her 
desire, while she, hips quivering, stiff ens in delicious dread. 

So also one fine night in Barbados when I heard choral music 
while prowling a country road, it would have been astonishing to 
find white people making it. Nor was I astonished. It was being 
made by eight Negroes behind the hedge of Barbados pride, seated 
like madrigal singers around a table. A chant by Purcell from the 
Anglican liturgy was what they had hit upon for their theme; 
now, singing and resinging it, they added permanently those har- 
monic or vocal effects that to their ears enriched its beauty. 

Purcell might have been discomfited by the anthem so evolved, 
as King William certainly would have been, to hear himself im- 
mortalized as the son of his fathead father-in-law James II.* Or 
the proud dancers of old Africa might have found my Tram Lines 
rumba a slipshod show. Popular use, because it preserves a thing 
alive rather than like a fly in amber, does not bar it from new 

* William III is the hero of our song. William IV, however, actually lived in the 
islands; as Duke of Clarence and a naval man, he was stationed for some time in 
Antigua, where his charming residence still stands. 


Indeed, in a country of mixed immigrants, if an art is to live it 
must take its nourishment in part from alien sources. Dancing 
games have survived in the Bahamian out-islands, perhaps, be- 
cause the Negroes of those balanced communities have kept the 
whites from forgetting their bounce. Certainly the noise made on 
the Harbor Island foreshore by the white children playing with 
the black was freer in snatches of song and rhythmic whoop-de-do 
than is usual among British tots especially in the blacker colonies 
where worry about the color line exerts its blighting astringency. 
As for Merry England itself these days, or even the merrier 
England of the first quarter of the century, I tell no news when I 
say that its citizens are prone to vocal and muscular restraint. No, 
the Bahamian doings were like those of an older time in Britain 
like the milkmaids' May pail garlanding that Pepys described, or 
the game of "I love my love with an A" that he watched King 
James play on the floor with the duchess and some other ladies 
when His Majesty was still Duke of York. 

The Barbados anthem builders, meanwhile, at their civilized 
frolic, had not merely based their Negro music on a white master's 
theme, but used European harmonic laws in its development. For 
by such hospitable interchange the West Indian arts achieve their 

Unencouraged in racial pride, out of touch for generations 
with the culture of Africa, the Negroes naturally are the more 
hospitable in this interchange. They may put on a show of arro- 
gance, but the fact that they are "inferiors" makes them covet the 


proud culture of the whites. Music thus is Spanish in the Spanish 
islands, French in the French, British in the British. And behind 
these national distinctions are those international ones bred by 
the Church; for it would seem no chance thing, even in our main- 
land world, that the Negro spirituals were developed in a Protes- 
tant countryside, whereas jazz, with its emphasis on instrumenta- 
tion, spread from the Lower Mississippi Valley that is, from 
once French Louisiana whose focus is still Catholic New Orleans. 

In the Protestant islands where the slaves were converted by 
the Moravians and the British dissenting sects, hymns sung in parts 
have been the fare Sunday after Sunday, gospel meeting after 
gospel meeting. At Calabash Bay I heard them in their primitive 
simplicity: unaccompanied, the voices divided into melody and 
bass counterpoint. The night music at Blue Hole, of larger har- 
monies and more spirited rhythm, with the fisherman drawing 
his counter-melody through it, was an extension of the polyphonic 
form as was the anthem building that I heard in Barbados. 

In the Catholic islands, on the other hand, the minimum of 
church music, Sunday after Sunday, wedding after wedding, 
funeral after funeral, has been the priest's chant at the altar, 
flowing its purely melodic way. And the choir's part in the Mass, 
progressively more polyphonic since the jolts of the Reformation, 
has never become wholly so; at any rate the innovation had small 
place in the islands until after plain-song had been rooted there a 
full century. 

How can these repetitions fail to impress lifetime listeners? 
For some cause, certainly, in the Catholic islands melody is king. 
If parts are sung they generally duplicate the air, note for note, 
on the third or sixth tone below it. Or the high octaves played by 
the flute so heart-piercingly in Cuban charanga music are still 
more slavish. In a word, in this homophonic realm the voices pro- 
ceed side by side like nuns out for a stroll; whereas in Protestant 


polyphony they move with some independence, like a Bible class 
picnic at a game of tag. 

But melody hankers for accompaniment. In the Catholic islands, 
so I have noted, guitar or accordion for chord harmonies, percus- 
sion instruments for rhythm, play an integral part in any song 
fest. And such being the case, it is in these same islands that 
instrumental music thrives in its own right, with its own special 
melodists. It was in French-Catholic Pointe-a-Pitre that the jazz 
band kept me awake developing tonal effects out of its native 
wit; and two boys on two flutes one rainy night played duets 
under a high-wheeled cart. 

Or I think of my first short night ashore in the tropics, now 
long ago, when like a white moth in my new white clothes I 
hovered after a small-boy band that was picking up pennies in 
Havana. Here was something unmistakably Caribbean boleros 
sung in thirds in sad brassy tones to the accompaniment of guitar, 
maracas, claves, giiiro, marimbula, and bongo instruments for 
the most part nameless for me then. Except for the guitar all were 
non-European: the swishing gourd-rattle maracas; the tapping 
ebony-stick claves; the loud-rasping gourd giiiro; the deep-toned 
marimbula on which its player sat, reaching between his legs to 
twang the metal prongs; the tough double drum of the bongo, 
tuned over a spirit lamp. 

That black brat of a bongo player was a very demon. Ferocious 
in vigor, prodigious in technical resource, he was fired by the 
genius I was to find animating island music on so many later 
occasions, staid as well as madcap. For beyond the unities that 
national example and the Church have given it, is the Negro's 
unifying vitality. 

I wish I could report the survival of African arts of the more 
solid kind bronze founding like Benin's, carving in wood, archi- 
tecture as full of geometric fancy as some Hausa palace's. Who 
knows, it might be so if the blacks had migrated in liberty. But 


as things were, and even to the kindlier of their masters, African 
sculpture (for one instance) was as heathenly evil to be caught 
busy at as poisoning a well. To survive transplanting to the slave 
world, in fact, an art had to be of the inward sort, capable of 
being popped out for exercise when safe, then popped back into 
the mind again when not. 

Thus, balladry, mimicry, and proverb coining could be prac- 
ticed almost under the overseer's nose. Dancing and music were 
even patronized by the whites: command performances on the 
Great House lawn never failed to amuse guests come over from 
jaded Europe. The more earthy and deep-seated elements of these 
arts, however, the slaves soon learned to keep for less public times. 

Persecution, by forcing Voodoo underground, saved it from 
the blight of ridicule; in the Haitians' superb drum techniques 
and ritu'al chants and dances, the islands' most nearly pure example 
of the African arts has been preserved. But a mating of European 
materials with African means is what is common as in the 
Havana boys' music, with its African tympany and brass-voiced 
Spanish tunes. 

Or the famed calypsos of Port-of -Spain are children of even 
more diverse parentage. Trinidad, seized by the British in one of 
the odd flukes of the French Revolution, and flooded by them 
with East Indian labor, had hitherto been a Spanish colony, 
worked by Negroes under French management. All elements re- 
main: the language of these rowdy ballads tends often toward the 
polyglot, though an English of drolly misplaced stresses is the base. 
And since the island's Franco-Spanish phase stamped it with 
Catholicism, its music is homophonic.* Newsy and personal, the 
calypsos show scant kinship with choral music's group utterance. 

* The melodic characteristic, if I may stick my neck out far enough to say so, is an 
emphasis on the use of third intervals which since I note it also in the Haitian hill 
music and in the incantation Elfrida taught me in Carriacou, I surmise to be a Negro 
contribution. Tlmbu bimbu ("drum bamboo'*) provides the true native accompani- 
menta nondescript orchestra, in which bottles are a common instrument. 





Cuba is preeminent in supplying the Spanish-speaking West 
Indies with their popular music; Trinidad plays a like role for 
most of the others that is, it shares the responsibility with Tin 
Pan Alley. In fact I learned more of the calypsos in Jamaica or 
St. Lucia than in Trinidad itself, and more still in Grenada. But 
St. Vincent, an island not yet visited in these essays, taught me 
more than any, as well as a great deal else about what the popular 
arts can be on an island (and will be, God grant, on mine). And 
so with a glad adieu to theory I shall set about telling what I saw 
and heard there. 


At sunset the Lady Hawkins dropped anchor while the bay's 
hillside fields of arrowroot warmed to green-gold and Kings- 
town's long strand arcades blushed a modest pink. Captain Bligh 
of Bounty fame had brought his cargo of breadfruit seedlings to 
this haven at last, after a second and unmutinous voyage. I was 
glad to disembark myself. And in no time I knew I had done so 
lucky foot first. 

For one thing I liked the hotel, the Pelican. When I came in 
late, as constantly happened, and stole down the tunnel that led 
to die court, it was delicious to find the court staircase gleaming 


like salt in the moonlight, and to see the black blot of my shadow 
go skipping up. 

However, and though I accompanied the proprietress to church, 
and applauded her daughters' fluent performance of Melody in F 
and other classics, these people thought not quite happily of me. 
For aristocratic colored folk, my interest in the island's own 
vulgar music bred altogether too much of it about the premises. 
One glance from my bedroom window would set the urchins to 
tap dancing, while some such unpardonable ditty as "Wash Your 
Hands and Pick Your Fingernails" might taint the air. 

The beginnings of this education had been in a barbershop 
where, hearing music, I turned in for a shave. 

Around walls well pasted with pictures of Joe Louis and the 
royal family lounged the singers. They knew Irving Berlin by 
heart and of course the Trinidad calypsos. Robert Charles, one 
idler among them, composed; strumming away at his four-stringed 
cuatro, and revealing the absence of an important front tooth, 
he favored us with 

Meat is sweet and rice is nice, 

But rum-drinking like honey, sugar, and spice, 

while the barber snipped and swayed in rhythm. 

One client several times cast off the cloth that swathed him to 
illustrate on a guitar some refinement in chord progression. Or 
when an especially dear number was embarked upon, the sewing 
machine next door would cease to whirr, and around the tailor 
would hop, tape-measure flying, to add his vibrant baritone. 

This led away into various other sessions. The moon was at 
the full that week, and by the light of it in Arno's Vale or on Sion 
Hill I wrote out melodies and stanzas. 

Emily, leave me alone, 

I don't 'want no more wife in me home, 

was a calypso that Robert Charles thought good; 


No more depression I decide to bear. 
My last khaki pants Tm wearing got tear; 
So leave me alone, I davit want no wife, 
Girl, I going to live the bachelor life. 

Then, with a deeper pathos: 

Your family only worrying me 
They want me to join in matrimony! 
Before I should take such a tiger track, 
Em'ly, I leave you, please don't come back! 

It was a romanza of the realistic West Indian kind, as was also, 

/ was accuse for brutality 
Cause I got pep and vitality, 

or that cautionary favorite which, having pointed out that plain 
girls make the most loving and hard-working wives, ends, 

Therefore, from a logical point of view, 
Always many an uglier woman than you. 

Most of these songs and others native to St. Vincent were 
taught me by a trio of enthusiasts, Farino, Nugget, and Rodney, 
named for the admiral. 

Farino was a quarrelsome, jealous, long-boned rascal but full of 
music. To the tune of what he sang, he would reach inside the 
tatters of his shirt to make rich sucking noises in the hollow of his 
arm. Nugget was small and graceful. Dancing and singing were 
inseparable in the fellow: when he lifted his chin to carol in loud 
true tones he "dingolayed" automatically, that is, wove his body 
in rhythm. As for the admiral's namesake, he was a gentle young 
man but played the mouth organ like a Lucifer. 

As still as frost the moon glared in the serene vault of the sky; 
masses of mango foliage loomed overhead, no less silent; cool airs 
flowed down the hillside toward the sea into which realm, 
shadows reeling before us on the pavement, capered our tomb- 
stone man, of all people! with this troop of imps. And on the 


moon-struck milestones I would sit, and with the imps' help copy 
out what they had taught me: the Mussolini or Joe Louis calypsos, 
say, those blasts of racial pride, or the islands' version of Edward 
VIIFs abdication: 

It 'was love, and love alone, 

That cause King Edward to leave the throne. 

That these frolics were planned for my edification did not 
mar them, thank heaven, any more than the "Abdication" calypso 
was marred by being in an untypically minor key.* But events 
not designed for the visitor are what I prefer a gospel meeting, 
say, such as I chanced upon, one night in Kingstown market 

If ever I saw a scene out of Utopia, or perhaps I am thinking 
now of my own more easygoing island, there it was. Not that 
the place was any less pleasant by day, with its heaps of bananas 
and purple "pears," and curtsying huckster women who, be- 
cause I was polite, hollered "Praise God! " when assured my health 
was good. And the adjoining fish market had its golden hours 
when the boats same gliding in and the small boys, naked and 
frolicsome, skited through the bright-turbaned crowd for dives 
from the wharf. But night brought a homelier kind of beauty. 
In the dark the trees seemed to spread their broad boughs twice 
as far, and the Georgian brick architecture, rising simple and 
clean above the clean paved spaces, shone rosy against the sky. 

The evangelist was a blind graybeard in a smock, like some 
prophet come down from an Ethiopian hill. The women with 
him, however, were spry enough. Their charge was to bawl each 
hymn stanza's opening line, to jog the memory of the rest of 

* Its tune also is untypically short. But a comparison of the scales used generally 
in the Negro melodies of our British-influenced mainland and the British islands is 
highly curious. In both the minor is rare. The mainland's familiar pentatonic (black 
key) scale (as in "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"), and the diminished seventh to which 
its intervals seem naturally to lead, for some reason are unknown in the islands, 
except the Bahamas, whose Negroes came from the mainland with their loyalist 


us. As for the throng, it .was made up of ordinary mortals, some 
of whom, between hymns at least, were sinners. There were 
kpses from innocence of speech and behavior to be observed, 
and the riffraff urchins played tag among our legs without heed 
either for salvation or earthly safety. But perhaps all the more so 
for this reason, while singing my part and hearing the music 
expand in brass-band majesty about me, the wonderful fact that 
fun like this was common among these poor black people made 
me admire them very deeply. 

Or in Paul's Lot on another night when I happened on an im- 
promptu dance, since I was kindly known I could sit on the curb 
and clap hands for it without being too impertinent. 

Girls were making the music for this party, in high breathy 
tones. But though soft, their singing had power to put the neigh- 
borhood's young fry all in motion. Some danced grotesques; others 
satires on their elders; and others again, still too tiny to wear cloth- 
ing below rib level, jigged like veterans. Now and again the group 
would come down in formation from the outer shadows, bent 
double and pumping arms; or there would be a rumba; or one 
of the young lady singers would dart out to dingolay and shake 
herself like jelly. 

C U A T R O 

There was to be a "pay'' dance beyond police bounds in the 
hills one night later; and when two stevedores told me of the 
event and invited me to come with them to it, they leered sig- 

Rodney, Nugget, and Farino upon hearing the news also ex- 
changed glances rich in meaning. "You take the tiger track, walk- 
ing at night with worthless characters like them!" Farino moaned, 


spreading his big hands in anxiety. And indeed the two new com- 
panions, panting rum fumes, did loom very large on either side 
of me as we mounted the long ravine. I felt my marrow freeze. 
Nor was it reassuring, when we passed through a breadfruit grove, 
to see the three more familiar friends detach themselves from the 
shadow to follow behind, as they had volunteered to do, for a 
secret bodyguard. 

By and by, here was the dance hall with music oozing from 
it. Nor was I allowed to hesitate on the sill. A black hand caught 
mine and drew me instantly to the bar. 

The doorman, it proved, was the boatman who had fetched 
me from the Lady Hawkins. Proud friendliness beamed from his 
face, which was brightened further by the gin-and-beer mixture 
he grandly ordered. As for the bouncer, a dirty-clothed very 
black Negro named Jim, slouching about with a thick cudgel hang- 
ing from his waist, he was brother to one of my troop of Kings- 
town guides. "You the man give George those pants he need 
so bad?" he cried, opening his eyes, and swept me off to meet 
the girls and orchestra. 

The Pelican's proprietress was right. My circle in Kingstown 
lacked social tone. These free-mannered girls were by no means 
strangers, Florinda, Hyacinth, Lucille, Aurora. As for the or- 
chestra, squarely in the middle of it sat Robert Charles, giving 
me the high-sign. My stevedores were a mite miffed by all this 
welcome. They had expected and so had I that their tourist 
"catch" would be putty in their hands, rather than a man come 
home to the bosom of the family. 

It was bal that was being danced, in fine loose-jointed style. 
And indeed the music had force in it to put a hitching post in 
motion. Along the wall on a bench was a battery of guitar players, 
leaning all at one angle, with Robert's cuatro their key instru- 
ment before which dark frieze strode the clarinetist, hat tipped 
over eyes. If the throb of strings was the power that moved our 


entrails, it was his tricks that dazzled the ear: what he could do 
with a rowdy tune like "Oi-oi-oi, Don't Touch Me Down There" 
against the velvet of their thrumming, was and I would stop to 
gape at it a marvel. 

This virtuoso and his brethren I treated to a round of drinks; 
but the event, unlike the many others of the night's exchanges, 
was marred by an act of incivility. A brash newcomer, pushing 
in, made bold to help himself to the bottle. 

Everyone was appalled. He was especially, when Jim's cudgel 
whined in a sudden arc. Poor newcomer! he was the first goer 
too; with head well sunk in collarbone he shot out the door 
at which awful moment I became conscious of six eyes staring at 
me through a slit in the wall, like glass eyes in an oculist's display 
case. It was my bodyguard. 

"Come on in, boys, I'm safe," I told them; and indeed it was 
an unrobbed, unharmed, and very cheerful tombstone man who 
looked out into next morning's radiant world. Fitting bottle caps 
on their toes, the street urchins as usual fell to dancing. What an 
island! What a day! It was impossible not to do something showy. 
Kings might be a rarity in Kingstown since William IV sailed 
home from the colonies, but in such an atmosphere even I could 
play the prince. Ergo, I hired the biggest boat on the waterfront 
and took all the singers to Flat Rock for a swim. 

Having put down the stone he kept in the back of his fist for 
meddlesome policemen, my guide George plied an oar; Farino 
strained at another, and Willy the boatman set the stroke. When 
we rowed past his father's house, infant Cyril, in my lap, opened 
and shut his little hand, whereupon up flew the windows and the 
family leaned out to wave and holler. And at the Rock the lake- 
bred Minnesotan, roused to a pitch of heroism quite out of char- 
acter, dived into and swam down through the multicolored brine 
till my head was ready to split so rising at last at a distance that 


was acclaimed a prodigy. Farino, gasping like a dying man, 
struggled only half as far. 

After this triumph how could I forbear treating the crowd 
to a round of snowballs? The Portuguese into whose shop we 
crammed, was all but prostrated shaving ice for so many red- 
syrup drinks. The din was deafening. But when all had been 
served and glasses loudly were sucked dry, Farino, eyes closed, 
lifted his hands. And out from inside that jailbird rose a song: 
everybody knew it, everybody sang it; the noise resolved itself 
to order like a school of fish swimming suddenly all one way. 
Hands clapped, feet tapped, bodies dingolayed. And so to "Tie 
Me Donkey" and the "Monkey Song," the smaller boys' favor- 
ites; after which everybody tore his cap off and sang "God Save 
the King," with three cheers for George VI and, will you be- 
lieve it, three for me. 

"Well, good-by," I told them afterwards, for my ship was to 
sail that evening. "And may you all live long, useful, and happy 
lives" upon hearing which words infant Cyril put his fist to his 
eye, his mouth pulled dolefully out of shape, and he hid behind 
a tree. He'd brought a puppy for a keepsake for me, poor little 
shaver, with a speech about how when grown it w;ould jump 
up lovingly on me and protect me; when I packed I was glad in 
a way that I'd given it back; the suitcases were bother enough, 
bulging with Madras handkerchiefs and songs. But down the face 
above my necktie, when, while thinking about all these things, 
I tied the tie in readiness to go, a tear came trickling. 

Ridiculous! What a mug! Thank heaven the porter had not 
come up yet, to see me! 


Chapter XX. 


happiness's first requisite, and I think it is, the first requisite of 
festivity is a willingness to be gay. The thought has occurred to 
me that on a well-run island the citizens should be assigned colors 
to wear throughout their lives, some green, some scarlet, some 
blue, and so on, to insure that all crowds be picturesque. A 
"gorgeous idea," but I turn it over to rulers more dictatorial than 
myself. For me it would spoil everything on a festal day to have 
to jail some rebel soberly clothed: the raiment of more dutiful 
citizens immediately would seem sheepish. 

No, willingness is essential; for the willingness. to be gay breeds 
a readiness for sport, and readiness breeds spontaneity; and spon- 
taneity in its turn makes faces shine and invents new doings, and 
best of all brings life, joy, and meaning to the customs bequeathed 
to us by other times. 

Whether our present method of legislating the limits of work- 
ing hours is better than the mediaeval one of studding the calendar 
with holy days I incline to doubt, though I cheerfully accept 
the benefits of the existing system. But I hope it will not seem 
ungrateful to say that on my own island, where everybody will 
be his own boss anyhow, the calendar is to be rich with May 
Day Maypoles, Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and all such reason- 
able punctuation to the year. For as a sentence seems better begun 


with a capital letter than without, and grace before meat turns eat- 
ing into an ordered event, so the observance of time's human punc- 
tuation makes eternity almost homelike. The years are filled by it 
with familiar and well-loved landmarks. 

What holidays the Arawaks and Caribs kept I can't determine, 
but their arts of merrymaking astonished the Spaniards. Queen 
Anacaona's parties were the talk of Europe those first years after 
the discovery. When Bartholomew Columbus traveled to treat 
with her in Haiti, and her troupe of elegant but quite naked 
young ladies-in-waiting advanced from the groves to meet his 
army, singing ariettas and bearing garlands, the soldiers forgot 
their bawdy jests and babbled to one another of nymphs and 
dryads. And after the iguana feasts and the wrestling, dancing, 
and trials of strength performed at her command, there was so 
spirited a sham battle between detachments of her forces that 
four spearsmen were slain. The Spaniards, in fact, finding this 
part of the show too sanguinary, begged that it might end. 

Such delicacy in after recollection must have seemed odd to 
Queen AnacacSna. When next she entertained a Spanish official, 
the party ended in another manner. After the ariettas and the 
feast this time, and after taking part heartily in a game of quoits, 
the new governor, Ovando, permitted his men to reciprocate with 
a tournament: it was a splendid show of horsemanship and 
knightly combat but, as it fell out, a ruse. The "sham battle" 
concluded with the native chief guests being burnt alive in the 
queen's pavilion, while she, regal to the last, was hauled off to 
Santo Domingo and there hung. The islands' idyll was now well 
past. What the Old World wanted of the New was abject sub- 
serviency and cash profits. 

In my year in the islands, however except for Cuba, St. Barts, 
and America's recently acquired Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands 
the West Indies were held by the powers that had held them a 
century before. The age of exploitation and of brawls for posses- 


sion had mellowed into one of guardianship, more or less benign. 
The minor colonies, in fact, tended to lean on their masters' 
bounty. Thus, though there were grounds for discontent with 
government, as can be true also in places fully managing their 
own, the usual temper was one of pride: the Curagaoans were glad 
to be Dutch, the Martiniquans to be French, and hearts swelled in 
the British islands when the great naval vessels entered port. 

At the time of George VFs coronation, for example a date 
recent but now strangely remote Nevis marked the day with 
a pageant. 

It was all very ambitious. Scene one having been set at Runny- 
mede with the signing of Magna Cam, there were eight cen- 
turies of history to depict, which put a severe strain on local re- 
sources. But though Nevis is a poor, forgotten, black-man colony, 
its patriotism was equal to the test. Nelson's flagship, in papier- 
mach6 was a triumph of engineering; horses of various shapes 
and sizes were found, sufficient to mount the grand review. As 
for the actors, though by no means were there enough white 
ones available to play all white roles and some of the kings and 
prime ministers thus had to be played by nonwhites, everybody 
put his heart into the eff ort and it came off well. James Ts part 
was taken by the dentist, a colored man much respected; and 
when, in his kingly self, he united the thrones of Scotland and 
England, and decreed the translation of the Bible, some found 
the effect incongruous, but the general thought was that it was 
reverent and fine. 

C XT 8 

Bastille Day in French St. Martin was another case in point. 


The colony is peopled by English-speaking Negroes for the most 
part, yet the national holiday there, in "my year," 1937, brought 
all elements into a round of festivity filled to its circumference 
with a patriotic readiness to be gay. 

St. Martin is no great place, but as is usual in even quite un- 
heard-of islands it has inhabitants going about the business of 
life as earnestly as if it were Chicago. Its history is pretty. Divided 
from the earliest times between Dutch and French, it was blessed 
with settlers who made it their policy not to fight Europe's wars 
among themselves; for which good reason the twenty square 
miles of French territory, and the eighteen of Dutch, to this 
day lie side by side at peace with each other within their com- 
mon ring of surf. 

When I looked down on Marigot, the capital of the French 
part, from the ruined fort that overhangs it on a rocky hill, it 
seemed certainly very tranquil. The lagoon lay as smooth as blue 
glass, and on the harbor bay, almost as calm, the reflected masts 
of the schooners twisted and broke but always redrew their 
wobbly image. A boat with fish for sale was plying among these 
larger craft; I could hear the conch shell moo; and from them, 
laboriously, lighters laden with casks were moving toward the 

The harbor was better filled with shipping than I should have 
anticipated. French St. Martin, as it happens, is attempting the 
service so long and profitably offered by St. Thomas that of 
free port where shippers are not troubled by too many questions. 
Goods brought in go out again to destinations often vague: rum, 
as for instance in these casks from Demerara, passes into the hands 
of buyers whose vessels then disappear from marine intelligence. 
I heard Canada hazarded as a goal, but, as was the case in Nassau 
in Prohibition times, verifying such guesses is no matter for local 

The town looked innocent to be a smugglers' rendezvous, 


tucked between the hill and the end of the lagoon's near arm. 
One street curved away down the isthmus separating lagoon from 
bay; the other ascended three blocks' distance to the Philipsburg- 
Grande Case road, on the far side of which a hoary stone fence 
cut it short, with pastureland beyond rising in bucolic neatness 
to the island's central heap of mountain. 

All very nice! And just my size. Where the stubby wharf 
nosed out from among the trees, the house balconies on the quay 
caught the sun on their lacework panels. It was a treat to see 
that the notion that time is money had not bedeviled the carpenters 
who had made them. No, those craftsmen had been content with 
nothing less than beauty; and then, their jig saws laid aside, they 
had painted the fretwork as white as the sailboats drawn up be- 
low the sea wall arches which whiteness in Marigot exceeds 
that of swans. 

Next day was the Fourteenth and I was looking forward to it. 
However, I was hardly ready at six in the morning for the aerial 
bomb that exploded seemingly just outside the window. As if 
jarred as much as I was, the Catholic and Wesleyan bells woke 
in vociferous outburst, and the countryfolk already streaming by 
tucked their skirts or trousers up and broke into a run. 

By the time I could swallow breakfast the boat races were well 
in progress. Never was anything seen trimmer than those white- 
rinded craft on that broad blue bay. And when the winners of 
each race, after touching the anchored dinghy that was the goal, 
stretched out their arms for the flamboyant boughs carried out 
by some swimmer for a trophy, the flowers' clear scarlet glowed 
in unison with the colors striped gaily around the sailboats' gun- 

Meanwhile an Anguillan was performing on a slack rope strung 
up between two guinep trees; or when he was not, the local boys 
slipped their shoes off, guffawed, and made a try. The pavements 
swarmed with onlookers in their sprucest clothes; cars tooted in; 


bombs dropped tricolor flags and glittering confetti. A band 
played, to whose music, as fancy urged, percussion effects and 
mouth organ chords were added liberally by nonband members, 
A rifle range was cleared on the wharf: my friends the Beau- 
pethery boys, whose sport was shark hunting, here shone de- 

The day's eating, too, soon began. "Plenty sweets!" cried one 
mulatto girl when I inquired what she had for sale. And with a 
grace to match the flutelike quality of her voice, down she swung 
the tray from her head and tucking its corner nosegay of red 
hibiscus and white double-jasmine behind her ear, unfolded a 
napkin to show coconut squares, cashew pralines, green and red 
lollipops on broomstraws, and gingerbread in pink-frosted true- 
love knots. Other hawkers sold like wares, or peanuts, or golden 
mangoes and bananas, or twigs of bright green guineps, the islands' 

Marigot, in fact, was a picture to admire. The flare of hatbrims, 
the gay turban hues, the fancy cut of sideburns all usual enough 
on an ordinary day set one another oif this day like signs in 
common of the joy of life. And the children, shading from 
coppery to black, were more than ever darlings, jigging to the 
band tunes and spitting guinep seeds. 

At noon the official toast was drunk in the Maine around a 
huge antique oval table. Squeezed on a settee between the Wes- 
leyan parson and the agricultural director from the Dutch part 
of the island, I represented the United States of America with 
as much dignity as a tombstone man could muster. 

If my Cold Spring cronies could only have seen me now! 
Mayor Theisen especially: his island counterpart, Mayor Constant 
Fleming, performed with style. Seizing a glass and ripping out 
the toast in orotund French, he made me gulp ahead of time 
it was not so much to la patrie that he bade us drink, as to democ- 
racy itself. But "Vive la Francel" we thundered, draining our 


glasses; and a spirited though muffled voice from the pantry where 
someone was taking a private swig, answered, "Vive la liben\" 

Then followed an address read by a colored man from a manu- 
script trembling with his fervor; then the Vin d'Honneur. Mari- 
anne, meanwhile, serene and noble in plaster of Paris on her 
bracket, gazed away under the low ceiling beams toward a less 
ceremonious part of the doings, to wit, the bicycle races in the 

After lunch I hustled back to see the last of these. Nobody 
seemed to be in charge: the disorder was as titanic as anything 
could be on so small an island. But in spite of argument, one of 
the high and fancy or low and streamlined school of riders al- 
ways seemed to win. There were three-legged races; and now and 
again I would find myself in the house of some patriot and well- 
wisher, trying rum poured from a battered coffeepot or rum- 
and-pineapple punch. 

The waiter at the hotel, Jean, was in the soccer game, which 
gave me a personal interest in that roughhouse. Time being pre- 
cious it also meant that he had to serve us at dinner in striped jersey 
and football shorts; casting a loaf of bread to the ceiling as he 
sprang into the room he caught it behind his back like an acrobat 
before slapping it on the table. Thank heaven, Mayor Fleming's 
claret, a-clink with ice cubes, cleared my gullet of the too-sweet 
taste of punch; and a whole lobster and leg of veal gave me 
strength to face the evening's rigors. 

These took the form of a patriotic drama Danton in nine acts 
in a tent pitched for the purpose. I had been on the alert too 
long to follow even brief oratory now with zest, and our hero's 
style, though as clarion-like as the mayor's, was infinitely more 
extensive. My neck cracked repeatedly as weary head dropped 

But to the Revolutionary scenes, since the tent walls had been 
reefed up for coolness, the fireworks outside gave a rousing air of 


realism. Nor did the explosions and sudden lights fail to lend 
point to the newsreel, which showed the European dictatorships 
in their most threatening mood: Moscow, military review; 
Rome, the same; Berlin, ditto ditto; Madrid, ditto again. But 
Paris was different. In the flower market of the CitS there the 
island heart of the republic courtly old gentlemen were buying 
posies from big-aproned beaming women; at which juncture, 
whoosh! a rocket soared up past our briar-grown fort to shed 
over it the benediction of red-white-and-blue stars. 

The excellence of Marigot's Bastille Day celebration lay in its 
unanimity. Everybody took part in it, even I, the stranger in 
town. The onlookers were like "the crowd" in a ballet, often 
involved in the larger motions of the piece; nobodies were con- 
stantly turning out to be star performers. And though in retro- 
spect its lightheartedness now seems pathetic, it well fulfilled the 
purpose for which it had been ordained. For if such paroxysms of 
history as the French Revolution are to be commemorated, to 
do so with three-legged races and slack-rope dancing is not so 
much frivolous as it is appropriate: what are agonies good for if 
not to buy future lightness of heart? 

So, too, in Trinidad at Hosein time when the swarms of East 
Indian Moslems have their chief festival, carrying gaudy trans- 
parencies at night to cast them into the sea with noisy pomp, 
it is hopeful to remember that these lanterns represent martyrs 7 
tombs and that their frequently green coloring is a sign that one 


martyr died of poison. His corpse bloated, the story is, and 
turned a horrid green. 

Or the feast of All Saints in Martinique well illustrates the 
phoenixlike cheerfulness of mankind. For all its weight of mem- 
ory of the dead and dolorous French crape, the occasion is made 
so pretty, when dusk falls, by the lights twinkling innumerably in 
the cemetery groves, that the islanders think of it as not the 
saddest but the loveliest of their festivals. 

As for St. Rose of Lima, who ever made a more morbid 
specialty of suffering? I have no patience with the woman. But 
from the thorns of that life the French Creoles pluck a flower. 
In French-speaking Arima, in Trinidad, her day, August thirtieth, 
is Race Day, with the town jolly with bands and bunting. And 
in St. Lucia it is the colony's chief fete. 

I am no long lier in bed, but in bed I still was when the "La 
Rose" songs began to be wafted up the hill that bright-misted St. 
Lucian morning. And after a sumptuous High Mass in which the 
good folk of Castries finely chanted their part as Poptilus, the fes- 
tival songs were resumed in streets through which impromptu 
processions wound. "Wadeloes!" the Roses called their rival band 
the Marguerites, a taunt whose meaning has been lost in the fogs 
of folklore. The Frenchy old tunes, too, had had all the corners 
smoothed off them in nobody knows how many years of island 

At night Castries was a whirl of dancing. "Ba main P.CJ. sans 
ow-oua? at the International Caf6, was the demoniac calypso 
that made feet fly.* And near the harbor head a tarpaulin and 
palm-leaf bowery had been raised, in which a really large orches- 
tra was perspiring. But bowery and caf 6s could not contain St. 
Rose's revels: wherever music reached a bit of pavement, bal and 
rumbas were in progress under the open sky. 

"Give me P.(ure) C.(ane) J.(uice) without water" that is, neat rum. 


However, if gloomy events can be commemorated gaily, happy 
ones can accrete to their commemoration high jinks that seem no 
less odd. While the Christmas toy fair Christianly prospers in 
Kingston, for example, the season is marked in Jamaica's farther 
parts by heathen weapon dances. In Stewart Town, for one such 
place, Johnny Canoe, whose prototype was a Guinea chief, leers 
at the fun from his horned mask, while cambric monsters lope 
about, hind- and forequarters animated by local wags, charging 
upon the half-delighted, half -terrified children. 

In St. Kitts the cambric monster is plain Farmer John's Bull. 
Who knows, he may bear some kinship to the ox of Bethlehem. 
When his spirits sink in a fit of biliousness, however, and veter- 
inary care is called for, the pantomimed examination and response 
to treatment are so sidespUttingly indelicate that the Christmas 
stable scene seems a far cry indeed; Meanwhile, firecrackers pop 
from one end of the Antilles to the other, and the poinsettias burn 
a fine seasonable red. 

Carnival is the chief holiday time in the Catholic islands, and 
keeps its preeminence in those which in passing from French 
to British ways of thought have generally taken on a Protestant 
tone. In St. Vincent the governor awards a wand wrapped in 
bank notes to the cleverest band of entertainers; in Dominica, 
too still French-Catholic for all its long British rule, carnival 
prizes are worth the winning. Jason Apperly told me of one 
winner who had disguised himself ingeniously as a hill. Yes, there 
was no front nor back to this fellow, he was one mass of hill 
vegetation, growing in concealed tins of earth slung about his 
body. The wonder was, how he could stand the ants. But what 
struck me most in Jason's account of Roseau Carnival was that 
the white people for once in the year cut loose in the blessed 
release of blackface and joined the monkeyshines. 

Martinique's carnival was immortalized by Lafcadio Hearn, 


who saw it in Poe-esque time of plague. But Trinidad's is the 
one of chief current fame in the Lesser Antilles: what most of 
the islands will sing all year and salt away in the deep bins of 
popular lore, is sung first in Port-of -Spain the week before Mardi 
Gras. Ach! to have been one of that tentful of lucky listeners, 
when "Netty, Netty," the classic calypso of my year in the 
islands, first convulsed the public! 

The carnival I saw, however, was none of these, but Havana's, 
biggest of all which event, since Sundays are not strictly a part 
of Lent, continues through half of it, in Sabbath re-eruptions of 
noisy gaiety. 

Saturday nights likewise see the festivities in motion. One week 
it will be dancing in the parks, with colossal masked balls at the 
Asturian and Galician clubs; another, open-air vaudeville in the 
Cathedral Square where the silhouette of the double-bass players 
in the orchestra, beyond the dark restless crowd, stand inky 
against the bright froth of kicked-up skirts, and antique arcades 
haughtily echo risqu6 songs. 

The great thing on Sundays is the parade, but the word implies 
too studied an effort to be descriptive. There are floats, to be 
sure, elaborate set pieces to awe the eye: posed Columbuses for 
the historic touch, Neptunes in plaster shells for allegory, and 
bathing beauties to worry the thoughtful with their undress in 
the evening chill. As if Havana were Cold Spring, the fire depart- 
ment displays its crimson splendors. But even the most educational 
of such items scoot by at a dizzy pace; pushers-in egg them for- 
ward. For the anonymous participants in the show, numberless, 
tireless, and more than willing to be gay, make up the force that 
gives it life. 

The youngsters of the Garcia family, say, have hatched a plan 
with their little friends to ride to carnival in pirate dress. And 
after a great deal of sewing on the mothers' part, here they are, 


cocked hats, cutlasses, and all, cramming the Garcia car (top 
down) to bursting. Papd Garcia, with false nose and big pink 
spectacles, drives. But Mama meanwhile has done some stitching 
for herself. In long black cape, with other matrons of her circle, 
she rides in a truck, screaming broadcast whatever insult or inanity 
comes to mind: inhibitions can be forgotten, behind a mask and 
the legend, "Crazy Women!" 

The Garcfas and their friends, however, are but two entries 
in the spontaneous motorcade. Hundreds of like groups hatch 
like plans and hilariously join the fun. As dark deepens and the 
lamps half-hidden in the laurel trees begin to beam, the procession 
swells, until, overlong for its two-mile circuit, it doubles into 
parallels, rushing down Malec6n, up Prado, down Prado, and up 
sea wall Malecon again. But the two lines are soon reunited by 
the web of confetti that they lavishly interweave. 

A similar web, renewed as fast as broken, laces parade to on- 
lookers, and them in turn to the strollers on the Prado's broad 
mid-strip of mosaic pavement. Freak hats and parasols are the 
rule in this middle zone, and carnival impudence, and the eating 
of endless sweets. 

Where a lamp casts a spot of light through a gap in the laurels, 
some amateur will earn bravos with his homemade skit; or an in- 
spired guitar player will set a knot of revelers to marching jauntily 
in squad. In front of the noses of the pompous, huge spiders are 
prone to dangle, and between pretty girls' breasts are thrust 
tickling pinches of flake confetti af ter which last sort of exploit 
a courteously tipped hat is rewarded with an outraged pout, 
neither boy nor girl to be outdone in the comedy of decorum. 

But no matter how thickly the crowd may press or how madly 
it may mill, the hawkers push through with their wares orange 
ice in half orange skins, tin horns, trees of lollipops, Hitler mous- 
taches, cornucopias of roasted nuts, watchmen's rattles, big cram- 





bly doughnuts and against the noise and music of it all, raise 
cries florid and beseeching. 

Perhaps it was the Chinamen among these hawkers, stealing 
about silently with mysterious closed boxes, who all at once 
made me feel an alien. After hours of mixing in the fun, here I 
was, perched on a bench top eating coconut ice cream and being 
eaten in turn by lonesoineness. Home-sweet-homesick thoughts 
of Marigot rose to mind, of the toast we had drunk in the low- 
beamed Mairie, and the Dutch agricultural director's dog, as kind 
an Airedale as I ever knew. And then I was on the Fort hilltop 
once again, looking down lovingly on that small-island world. 

Good heavens! why had I come away? Why had I left snug 
Tortola, sky-high Saba, or that New England village, Harbor 
Island? Could I hope to find anything nearer the heart's blue- 
print than St. Barts? The little places were the place for me. 
Columbus thought Cuba a continent and no wonder. 

For a rebuke, suddenly I was on not Marigot's Fort Hill but 
a Haitian mountainside, a toppled-back gravestone for my seat. 
Never had the world looked vaster than from that philosopher's 


roost that afternoon. The great Plaine du Cul de Sac, opalescent 
in sea level's heats, the range upon range of mountains beyond, 
had been ravaged, burnt, fouled with the stench of rotting corpses 
year after year in the New World's most gruesome war. What 
price liberty on this wicked planet! And the Haitians were still 
paying for theirs in poverty and dumb stubbornness. The very 
sea, half-hidden by the Lord knows high-enough Morne de 
1'Hopital far below, seemed no cradle of islands, but a tongue 
stretched thirstily inland for fresh water. 

But where the ideal is maintained at a cost so near insufferable, 
its reality has power: the purpling mountains were not an inch 
too lofty for that evening's peace, nor was their coloring one tint 
too imperial. Happy and humble, I called back greetings when a 
pair of blue-smocked mountaineers toiled by on the next knoll's 
trail; one such poor wayfarer had been buried beneath my grave- 
stone. But no, it was a woman's, "aged," so the inscription ran, 
"115 years." It seemed a short life for a world so large. I pic- 
tured her in her old old age, in a scarlet turban, serenely smoking. 

The loneliness of her grave, however, must have meant some 
singularity in her life. She had seen trouble enough, no doubt of 
that, in her long time, as her present-day heirs must see in theirs: 
from the coffee thickets and thatch villages that peppered the 
mountain flank, up rose a wistful dissonance of scraps of songs, 
scolding, big-lunged laughter, name-hollering, argument, chil- 
dren's calls the old common noises of the human family. And 
for a while, for once, there in that mesh of sound, I seemed to 
hear with the clear ear of understanding. 


A wad of confetti had hit me on the nose, with which blow my 
ears reopened to the carnival din. A dressy quadroon, as if out 
of the bold old romantic naughty times, was riding by in a low- 
slung volante: her turban, glittering crucifix, and earrings, and 
the looped-up opulence of her skirts, made her seem not so much 


picturesque as a sort of West Indian muse. I was glad her marks- 
manship was so good: we blew each other kisses. After all, I 
loved big Havana as much as I did small Marigot; now I had 
the good sense again to know it. And happily from around me 
the tight globe in which the traveler moves, and whose glass so 
usually is dingy, distortional, or (worse still) self-reflecting, re- 
ceded to its best crystallinity. Perhaps it melted. At any rate 
the warmth of this world's fellow creatures became near and 

In crowd or solitude, the rule would seem, the precious gift 
is a realization that life runs through the rest of creation as 
actually as through oneself. The carnival playboy uproariously 
kissing the girls, or the physicist groping for contact with his 
shy neighbor the atom either comes nearest to satisfaction 
when that light shines on his enterprise. Hans Andersen, to whom 
the very street lamps were alive, is the travelers 7 philosopher: past 
times were the present, day by day, and in vital processes built 
the world we find. 

But understanding toiled for is good not by virtue of the cost. 
After the struggle, when plain truth is our reward, the wonder is 
that it was not grasped in one easy motion, like some darky grand- 
'mother taking her small granddaughter in her arms. To the quiet 
mind grace can come as quickly as to the anxiously desirious 
perhaps more quickly: such is my suspicion. 

These sausage chains of platitude are nourishment and a com- 
fort to the lazy man. I had finished the ice cream too, so hopped 
down friskily from my perch. The Havanese, meanwhile, in 
false noses and mad hats, brought their talents to bear on their 
inheritance, exercising it for health in the tomfoolery used by 
their forefathers before them. Yes, such observances are one means 
of keeping the cosmos in good trim. 

There were novelties too, however, to fit the newer times. 
One, a float following the volante, had been devised for the tour- 


ists' eyes a snowbank well simulated, with Eskimos sitting on it 
and the top of a monument just protruding. "Here lies summer," 
was the epitaph, a message from the chamber of commerce straight 
to me. 

To give the already broad hint more breadth, a second float 
showed summer's year-round habitation a tropic isle, small, neat, 
and green. A canoe lay beached on its painted cove, hibiscuses 
bloomed red and alemandas yellow. There was a thatch-and- 
wattle cabin, and between two real coconut trees a hammock 

By a miracle the designer had managed not to crowd his pic- 
ture. No, a fish-net weaver, singing, lolled against the wall, with 
a guitar player sprawled out beside him. A pretty girl smiled in 
the open, door. Two children rode proudly with the driver. As for 
the hammock could these bugged-out eyes deceive me? it hung 

God send me memory of the Spanish word for "Stop!" Wasn't 
the island mine, damn this rush? I sprang to action while a resolve 
like concrete hardened in my breast. 

But more resolute still was the old ghoul bashfulness. Along I 
hustled, jostling the startled merrymakers. Should I or shouldn't 
I? oh, what a nincompoop! what a jackass! And then and here 
is our tale's disgusting climax at the Prado's top, like Dante 
feeding his gaze for the final time on Beatrice, I watched my 
darling turn, and start for the sea again. 

Obispo Street was as still as a grave, and if anything blacker 
and more narrow. But into it I trudged, while two masked dom- 
inoes, hurrying toward the revelry I had left, only heightened 
its feeling of desertion. We bowed as we passed; their teeth 
gleamed an instant in mysterious smiles. And so to the Ambos 
Mundos and my hateful desk. 

A murraine on the islands of the mind! Not armchair geog- 


raphy was what I wanted, but real rock, and the rockier the 

But it is pitiful to see how soon rejected pleasures can be wel- 
comed back; the easy-to-hand, too, as a rule, are the kind I take. 
Napoleonic conquest has small lure for me. No, here were my 
old pals, the pen and inkwell, with whose help, in privacy, and 
with the much-loved West Indies for our reference, a bomb- 
proof island could be conjured up perhaps; free blessedly of fools, 
bad cooking, and insincerity. And one, of course, in which I 
should always shine. With which tickling fancy, while the cathe- 
dral's cracked bell tolled midnight, I kicked shoes off, hitched 
the chair up, and not unmerrily fell to. 


N B Z V "El